According to reports in the press recently, the Government of Guyana has announced that it shall be undertaking the enormous task of completely rehabilitating and restoring to its former beauty the now very decrepit and ramshackle City Hall Building in Georgetown.
This initiative is most commendable, timely and magnanimous, and points to the consistency of the President and the Government in honouring the commitment they gave in their manifesto: of enhancing Georgetown. It is a well-known fact that the current Opposition party always garners more than double the votes of those obtained by the party in central Government, which shows the altruism of the Government.
This iconic structure, which was constructed since 1889 and which was scrupulously maintained for more than a century by the very City Council to which it belongs, proudly served as a key tourist attraction, and hosted many concerts, recitals, and other cultural activities, including civic receptions for visiting Heads of State and Governments.
Why the Council just sat over the last 25 years or more and did virtually nothing to maintain the structure, but rather opted to just sit inside and squabble over very frivolous matters, is just beyond everyone’s wildest imagination. Were they just Philistines who had no appreciation for historical or artistic values? Were they cultural barbarians? Or was it just irrational politics? Whatever it was, it is clear that the Council preferred to await the coming along of some fairy godmother who would fund the preservation of the building that they own and occupy, while they choose to use this time to illegally give away hundreds of millions of dollars in interest waivers to delinquent property owners who found favour with them; money which they could have used on the building’s upkeep.
The whimsical excuse always provided for not maintaining that and other municipal buildings in the city is that they were cash-strapped, a most imprudent justification given, when everyone is aware of the lavish spending that was undertaken on overseas travel; on the purchase of fancy vehicles; on pointless projects, such as constructing an unfinished Presidential Park on Merriman’s Mall, attempting to convert a recreational space in Bel Air Park into their private housing estate, and contracting out refuse collection and other municipal services rather than doing the jobs themselves, as they once did etc. during this period.
A bit of sound advice to the central Government as they embark on this mammoth project is that they ensure that the role of the Council be nothing more than mere spectating, as it is public knowledge that there is a complete dearth of transparency and accountability, and competence and professionalism at City Hall. This is evidenced by the fact that they even botched the only maintenance work that they did to the building when they replaced the original wooden windows with PVC windows, a complete no-no in heritage building conservation using dissimilar architectural surfaces and fittings.
Preserving historic buildings is vital to understanding our nation’s heritage, and therefore I would like to recommend that the Government put in place a special team to manage this project, with competent personalities such as members of the National Trust; Guyana Heritage Society; former engineers of the City Council: Berkley Wickham, Egbert Carter, Cephas James, and Lloyd Alleyne – engineers who have a wealth of knowledge, experience and prowess in conservation and restoration of cultural heritage; and other personalities, such as Carleton Joao who worked on the St. George’s Cathedral Restoration project.