Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Our President deserves better

As a new Head of State prepares to assume office in the historic setting north of Queen's Park Savannah amid the green scene of the Botanical Gardens thoughts turn toward appropriate accommodation for the country's most exalted dignitary.

It has been nearly eight years since the roof collapsed on President's House days before the 2010 general election. One clear focus and legacy of the then Patrick Manning administration had been the monumental rebuilding of government structures in the capital city.

The reimagining and relatively grandiose remaking of State buildings included the Prime Minister's residence at La Fantasie in St Ann's. Excluded from the ambition to heighten the physical scale and add lustre to State buildings was President's House, once the vice-regal locale, housing governors, governor-generals and, post 1976, presidents. Over three separate administrations, the anomaly has persisted which excludes accommodation for the Republican president from commensurate reconstruction or restoration.

The absence of habitable official housing for the Head of State at President's House precipitated actions by the incumbent, Anthony Carmona, to mobilise the term “suitable accommodation” in relevant public service regulations. Housed at the time in several units at Flagstaff Hill, President Carmona sought and received an additional housing allowance over a period of several months before moving into the cottage on the grounds of the President's House. His decision to seek and accept a monthly $28,000 housing allowance in addition to accommodation at the Flagstaff Hill units is likely to feature in his legacy well into the future.

Paula Mae Weekes, newly elevated to the presidency, can accordingly look forward only to being housed in the President's cottage set up for visitors on the grounds of the Botanical Gardens. While the cottage is well outfitted to meet the needs of the Head of State, it is not ideal. Meanwhile, the old President's House has remained in an alleged state of renovation, with a metal roof and stanches installed to protect what's left of the old colonial edifice from the elements and from both official and public indifference.

So, far from installing the Head of State and armed forces' commander-in-chief in any place even remotely comparable to the palatial Prime Minister's residence in La Fantasie, little thought is apparently given to the likely housekeeping expectations of the first woman president and her family. Restoration of President's House is on a list of projects which the government has undertaken to complete.

The undertaking was given effect during Dr Rowley's inspection tour of the Red House and parliamentary chambers work in progress.

Ads appear inviting proposals for renovating the relatively new Cabildo Chambers into a parliamentary office building. If any such plans, equally marked with prestige and other investment, exist for President's House, they are kept too far in the background now that interest, and even enthusiasm, stir to welcome President–elect Paula Mae Weekes.