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The decision to stop the rot of Mille Fleurs with an immediate infusion of $700,000 worth of stabilising repairs is welcome news, although more timely action would have spared taxpayers some of the $46.6 million estimated for its full restoration. By one estimate, this figure represents an escalation of over 40 per cent of the original restoration estimate of $32 million. This is yet another example of the high price that the public continues to pay for the intolerable level of inertia at the official level.
While we salute the decision to get cracking on the Mille Fleurs project at last, we believe that the public is owed a greater level of transparency regarding all four of the famed Magnificent Seven buildings around the Queen’s Park Savannah which are owned by the people of Trinidad and Tobago
Instead of limiting public disclosure to the $46.6 million restoration price tag for Mille Fleurs, the Government needs to make a clear and comprehensive statement outlining the full plan for the extensive public investment in Mille Fleurs, Stollmeyer’s Castle, Whitehall and Queen’s Royal College. These buildings are not just another construction project; they represent a part of the country’s heritage, investment and the public trust. We note that the announcement about Mille Fleurs’ restoration cost was made by the Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration whose Ministry now holds responsibility for museums. Does this mean that Mille Fleurs is to become a museum as indicated last year by the then chairman of the National Trust?
Given the ad hoc decision-making regarding the occupation of various state buildings, including President’s House, we encourage the relevant authorities to make a clear and unambiguous statement disclosing the planned use of these buildings with detailed expenditure and time-frames. The public is not only owed full disclosure on the handling of state property; it would also like to express its opinion on the Government’s policy and recommendations. This Government should know that it is developing a reputation for announcing one plan after another without giving the public the benefit of the full picture. The result is a growing public perception of incoherence about its policy.
The public deserves clarity on the future of Mille Fleurs which has already suffered more than its fair share of confusion. In the late 1980s, the Robinson administration released it to the Law Association for its headquarters. That plan was short-lived. In 2004, the successor People’s National Movement Government reclaimed possession on the grounds that no legal transfer or lease had been effected. On the grounds that the building needed urgent repairs, the government broke the Law Association’s padlock and took possession. Almost ten years later, the building is worse off than ever, and the cost to taxpayers more onerous than ever.
This is the context in which we urge the Government to take the public into its confidence on its plans for all four of the Magnificent Seven buildings that are publicly-owned.