It’s wise to preserve our old treasures
Having remained silent since the roof of President’s House collapsed in May 2010, Prof George Maxwell Richards last Sunday finally referred to the event, calling on citizens to support the restoration of historic buildings.
Describing the President’s House as “a symbol of the past which has not totally collapsed, but which has crumbled beyond dignity”, Prof Richards argued that a country which did not preserve its heritage would lose its identity.
National Trust chairman Vel Lewis, contacted by the Express on the issue, struck a pragmatic note by describing the Magnificent Seven buildings as part of the country’s “tourism plant”.
The ongoing indifference to the preservation of historic buildings remains a national embarrassment and, perhaps more importantly, an indication of a regressive state of mind. The collapse of the President’s House was caused by a simple lack of maintenance, and this inability to take care of basics and foresee consequences runs like poisoned veins throughout the society.
It is why vehicles in State entities, from the Police Service to the Public Transport Service Corporation, need to be replaced so frequently. It is why, at the start of every school year, there is always a rush to do infrastructural repairs, which would not be needed if the buildings were regularly inspected and maintained. It is why the annual Carnival is always a bacchanal.
This philistine attitude arises in part from the country’s rentier economy, where GDP is primarily measured by rents earned from selling the depleting resources of oil and gas, and only secondarily from the production of goods and services. And the fact that successive administrations have largely ignored the issue of preserving the country’s built heritage also speaks to politicians’ disinterest in a future beyond their electoral terms. Indeed, politicians may even be motivated to stymie such budgetary allocations, lest they be seen as ignoring bread-and-butter issues in favour of elitist concerns. This is why Mr Lewis has to present a cost-benefit perspective.
But educating the populace on the nation’s obligations to preserve its heritage in all forms could bring more than economic benefits. It is a fact that an individual is more likely to achieve excellence when excellence is its own goal, rather than a means to an end. In other words, the best athletes and artists and even entrepreneurs achieve mastery because they love their work, not because they love the rewards they get for their work.
It might be argued that the same is true of nations. A country in which a critical mass of people strive to achieve and maintain certain standards is a country which attains prosperity, social stability and security. Valuing these architectural symbols of our past is one such standard.