Year after year after year over the past decade, concerned citizens have pleaded with the Government to repair this historical edifice, but these pleas have clearly fallen on deaf ears, to the degree that the collapse means this part of the building can no longer be preserved/restored but instead must be rebuilt from scratch.
That is the scant regard that this Government has for Trinidad and Tobago’s historic landmarks which are the heritage of all of us.
This country simply doesn’t have that many more sites dating back to 1873, but the Government apparently has not been cognisant of that fact.
Citizens for Conservation spokesperson, Rudlyn Roberts, lamented to Newsday on Monday that the Ministry of Works had done all the working drawings for the restoration of President’s House, but they stopped this project even before tenders could be sent out in 2006. Expressing the views of many, Roberts said, “I am very upset because there have been plans for the restoration of this building all along”.
She also noted the continuing dilapidation and neglect nearby of another one of the Magnificent Seven of historical buildings, Mille Fleurs.
As far as we are concerned the collapse of President’s House after a decade of urgent warnings and pleas from the public screams out the Government’s contempt to the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, and contempt for the office of President of the Republic.
Further, the Government in its neglect has shown a don’t give-a-damn attitude to this country’s built heritage of which Trinidad and Tobago possesses very little. The Government is guilty of a philistinism of the worst order when they could spend billions of dollars on very tacky high-rise office blocks and a gaudy Performing Arts Centre, yet could not spend a few million dollars to preserve a historical treasure. We don’t know if this neglect is motivated by some sort of purported “anti-colonial” sentiment in some quarters of the Government, but if that is so, we say that is entirely misguided.
After Saturday’s roof-collapse, to add insult to injury was the apparent lack of concern by the Government in responding to the calamity. Newsday reported that when its reporters visited the scene, there was no work crew present to clean-up, and not even a piece of tarpaulin to cover the exposed top of the west wing to prevent further damage from rain, wind and sun.
Up to press time on Sunday evening, the Government did not even think it was important to even issue an official statement on this national disgrace.
By Monday Minister of Works, Colm Imbert, had issued a media statement that to our minds simply reeked of officiousness belying a phony concern. All the high-sounding phrases of that press release — which simply spelt out the obvious, that the structure was unsafe and must be evacuated — were totally redundant, coming from an agency guilty of such dereliction of duty for so many years.
The effect of the collapse will be that President Richards will now have to host his official functions elsewhere. He had long moved out of the official house, to live in a small cottage at the back of the premises.
Latest reports are that the Ministry is now seeking to engage a specialist contractor to do emergency repairs on the building, after consultation with experts to decide which parts need repair and which need a complete reconstruction. So, after all these years of warnings, we are now at the stage of “engaging” and “consultation”?
If there is a change of Government on Monday we will hold them to their promise to invite the President to occupy the grandiose palace at La Fantasie which Prime Minister Manning built for himself even as President’s House was falling down.