The nation was told earlier this week that over one billion dollars is needed to restore City Hall to make it into a modern structure. As it currently stands, the building is in a terrible state, almost to the point of being an eyesore in the centre of the city. The Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) has since officially launched its Comprehensive Restoration and Sustainable Conservation Management Plan, which, so far, was kick-started with its first donation of some five million dollars.
The restoration fund is one whereby members of the public and businesses are encouraged to donate monies towards the rehabilitation for the 19th-century building. It could be recalled that a subcommittee was established some time ago to speed up the reconstruction process of City Hall to its former glory. The committee included representatives from the Mayor and City Council, the Tourism Authority, Chambers of Commerce and other Private Sector organisations.
In 2018, the European Union had partnered with the National Trust of Guyana and hosted a two-day stakeholder’s workshop to commence talks for sustainable and comprehensive plans for the restoration of City Hall. Stemming from the workshop, a Comprehensive Restoration and Sustainable Conservation Management Plan was presented to the Social Cohesion Minister in July 2018.
At the time of the study, the restoration of the building was slated to cost around G$400 million but to date, that amount has increased to over G$1 billion. Key findings indicated that City Hall can be restored in single or multiple phases, and that income can be generated for commercial purposes such as a gallery or museum. It was also suggested that its use, as the seat of the City Council, should be retained and a maintenance and repair programme must be implemented and adhered to.
While we are encouraged by the fact that the fund was launched and there now seems to be some serious steps in relation to ensuring that City Hall is restored, it is clear that the building was deliberately left to deteriorate to the level it now is, for years, by those who were tasked with running the affairs of the city. There is simply no excuse for allowing this historic building to deteriorate to the state it is presently, in spite of the city collecting millions in taxes.
The present Mayor is now appealing to the public for donations to help in the restoration of the building and has since given all assurances that steps will be taken to ensure that the monies are spent in an accountable and transparent manner. He also indicated that there will be strict auditing in this regard, but due to City Hall’s history in terms of managing its finances and providing accountability, it is still left to be seen if this will actually happen.
In the past, several letter-writers, commentators and politicians had called for the Government to commission a forensic audit regarding the operations of the Council in the interest of ensuring transparency and accountability. In addition to the parking meters scheme, there were several other projects which the City undertook that had caused stakeholders to ask questions.
For example, not long after the coalition government took office, the M&CC in collaboration with the APNU/AFC Government embarked on a massive city-wide clean-up campaign in Georgetown and its environs. While these efforts produced fairly good results regarding the general appearance of the city and its environs, the political Opposition and other stakeholders had raised several questions in relation to the contracts awarded to carry out the works. The perception was that friends and party supporters were the main beneficiaries.
We had stated before that there is much to be explained by past officials who were tasked with managing the affairs of the Council. To date, there are many questions which remain unanswered; this, in effect, means that the present Administration would have much work to do to rebuild credibility and trust in the work of the Council. Managing the restoration project funds and ensuring the successful implementation of the project is a good test.