A project for 2014 – Save Georgetown’s City Hall

City Hall - Georgetown-Guyana

City Hall – Georgetown-Guyana

DECEMBER 29, 2013 · Stabroek News – Editorial

A project for 2014 – Save Georgetown’s City Hall

There can be few places on the planet where it is more frustrating to live than Guyana. Of course, everyone hopes that 2014 will usher in a new spirit of co-operation and amity in the political firmament; that miracles will be performed with the city’s drains and trenches; that the garbage crisis in all parts of the country will be miraculously confronted; that there will be a dramatic reduction in the crime rate; and that a commendable impact will be made on any number of social perversions, anomalies and pathologies – but we all know it is not going to happen, or at least, not much of it.              

There are so many things which seem obvious to the ordinary man or woman, any one of whom could say what needs to be done in a given area, but unfortunately what is straightforward for the layperson, is the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest for the authorities, whose senses are addled by all kinds of political irrelevancies.  But just suppose that for the year 2014 they set themselves one primary achievable goal (if they manage others too, all well and good), and that this goal is not complicated, doesn’t require sophisticated policy decisions or the passage of a parliamentary bill and whose results will be obvious to all when completed.

There are many candidates that meet these criteria, but the most obvious is City Hall – the building, that is, not the institution, which is an altogether more knotty affair. There was a tiny pinprick of hope on the horizon last year that this heritage structure would be saved, but it vanished again on account of the sulphurous political atmosphere. It wasn’t that certain moves in the right direction weren’t made, it was that there was no convergence of aims or co-ordination of any kind between the groups which had the capacity to effect change.

The year began with the Mayor of Georgetown calling a meeting about the state of the building which resulted in the setting up of a technical committee comprising engineers and the musician Eddy Grant, among others.  Following that, two consultants paid for by generous business persons came down here to look at the decaying structure, and the report they produced made depressing reading. Apart from the fact that they said the “greater part” of the deterioration was a consequence of water leaks, they also recommended the disconnection of City Hall from the grid to avoid the risk of fire because of the exposure of electrical lines to water contact.

They had various other critical things to say as well, that have been reported more than once, but two of the recommendations were that an independent action committee be set up and given the authority to guide the restoration project through, and that immediate work should be done to stop the leaks and remove a water tank. Has this happened? Needless to say, it hasn’t, for the usual labyrinthine reasons.

Well, we got to the stage of the first consultants because of the efforts of the Mayor, and it was then the turn of the government. In October, the Minister of Culture announced that City Hall had been accepted for inscription on the World Monuments Watch List. Gina quoted Ms Nirvana Persaud of the National Trust as describing it at the launch as “more of an international promotion or advertisement” to attract funds. Minister Anthony was reported as saying that a broad stakeholder committee was needed to push for repairs at City Hall, and that this had to be done along with the Georgetown City Council.  He’s right about that without any question, but has this happened? Needless to say, more than three months on we are still waiting. And where are the initial efforts to attract funds?

Will somebody high up there in the deep recesses of government take a decision – preferably on January 1, 2014, which marks the start of the125th anniversary year of City Hall – to contact the Mayor & City Council about setting up an independent action committee.  This does not need to be done in the glare of publicity; when it is done, then it can be announced. There should be no big quibbles about who should be on it; this isn’t about politics, it’s about heritage, and the primary criteria for inclusion are those who are knowledgeable and those who have the relevant skills. Then let the committee draw up the draft of a plan for how to proceed, identifying in the first instance the emergency work that has to be done as priority.

Exactly what kind of mechanisms will be necessary to achieve a comprehensive restoration with a minimum of local friction will have to be worked out, but once the government commits to the project in principle then it behoves the two parliamentary opposition parties to give their unequivocal support.  To date, neither has had a word to say on the subject, despite the fact that one of them is led by a historian.  While some money for specific areas could be raised locally, the larger sums will have to come from international agencies, and approaching these institutions comes definitely within the ambit of the government.

And nobody wants to be belaboured with diatribes from the government about the Mayor & City Council; the latter will not be executing the larger project, although clearly their cooperation will be necessary. However, from all the evidence to date, this will be forthcoming. Where immediate repairs are concerned, then a more critical person would be the current Town Clerk Carol Sooba. She, of course, answers to the ministerial duo in the Ministry of Local Government, so whoever in the higher echelons of the deep recesses of government sets all of this in motion, would have to give the two Ministers – and by extension, the Town Clerk – a detailed explanation of its importance and urgency.  She should also be asked about the $15M left over from the $20M allocated by former President Jagdeo in 2011 for City Hall’s immediate rehabilitation, and which could be pressed into service now.

On the night of January 31, 2013, President Ramotar will address the nation in his usual avuncular style; talk vaguely about unity; possibly take a swipe at the opposition in relation to parliament; and maybe even mention the words ‘local government elections.’ But will he commit his administration to ensuring that City Hall is saved?

Don’t hold your breath.

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  • Jenny  On December 30, 2013 at 12:57 am

    What is the government doing with all the money they should have received from the gold industry? The City of Georgetown used to be the envy of the region now it has become a laughing stock. Regardless of all the derogatory comments that some have said over the years about Guyana under British rule, I would gladly welcome back the British to our shores because they developed a country with one of the best infrastructures in the region, where all its citizens could hold their heads high and feel proud to say that we’re Guyanese. Not this shabby excuse for a government that’s run the country into the ground and turned our beautiful Georgetown into a dirty, rat infested ghetto. The Mayor cannot do much of anything without all aspects of proper resources. It’s nice to say let’s band together Guyanese from all over the world and raise the funds to refurbish City Hall but who will be in charge of managing the funds once it’s been raised. Who can we trust to make sure that the money is used to refurbish the building and not end up in some politician(s) pocket? And what about the rest of the City….are we to have a beautiful, refurbished City Hall sitting in the midst of a ghetto?

  • de castro  On December 30, 2013 at 4:11 am

    Absolute hilarious laughter ….ha ha…but ever sooootrue…

    Unfortunately one cannot “turn back time” but one can “dream”
    and dreams do come true…..if realistic.

    GT is a city of “nostalgia”…..Old City….Guyana needs a NEW CITY
    on higher ground somewhere between GT and LINDEN.
    The land is there
    The road is there
    The river is there
    Infrastructure of a city.
    Jenny I empathise with your frustrations reflected by your comments…and I share your sentiments….
    I have transgressed the globe a few times during my military service
    in HM AIR FORCE stationed in UK….now retired….but still mobile.
    Build the new city and I will repatriate yesterday not today or tomorrow.

    GT was created by wealthy/educated British who were fed up with the
    situation politically/economically in their country…stagnation.
    They were “colonisers” but mostly “post war” colonisers.
    LONDON and many other cities in UK were polluted slums of the poverty
    of WW2 saved from starvation by USA….
    The economic migrants to GT from both UK USA were the wealthy who
    wished for a “dream city” in their newly adopted home….BRITISH GUYANA.
    so they went about creating the garden city of Georgetown on mouth
    of Demerara river….during the Dutch occupation the seawall was already
    constructed…it was more economic to reclaim land than to bull dose it
    in those days…Dutch s legacy.
    Not wishing to rewrite history and moving fast/forward Guyana
    Needs a new city now….not today or tomorrow but yesterday.
    GT can then remain the VENICE of NEW WORLD….city of love !
    Gondola s et al…..how romantic and nostalgic…..on high tide
    the gondolas will have more access to OLD CITY.

    and dreams can come true…if you believe !
    It is better to live in hope than die in despair.!!

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