THE Prime Minister recently announced his intention to demolish the buildings housing the Government Printery, the Parliament Building and the building housing the Courts in order to establish a park in the city centre. He also indicated that he is expecting a report from UNOPS on the redevelopment of the city.
I have serious concerns about this announcement on many fronts.
First of all, is this part of an overarching plan for the redevelopment of Castries, a Castries urban renewal plan? If it is, where is this plan? Who developed it? Has it been reviewed and discussed by the citizens of Saint Lucia, and note I have deliberately not said the residents of Castries because the city belongs to all of us, not just those of us, like me, who were born and live there. The demolition of public buildings of historical significance in Castries cannot be at the whim and fancy of anyone, not even the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia.
Secondly, why has UNOPS been asked to do a development plan for Castries? This is not the forte of UNOPS. The United Nations Office for Project Services, UNOPS, is an arm of the United Nations with a mandate to serve “as a central resource for the UN system in procurement and contracts management as well as in civil works and physical infrastructure development, including the related capacity development activities.” UNOPS was the agency that my ministry and our government engaged, together with the Government of Mexico, to construct the new Dennery Valley water system. The redevelopment of the city of Castries is an entirely different undertaking. This has to be done in a manner that recognizes the need for economic and social interactions to operate and coexist efficiently and without friction in our city, while maintaining some level of aesthetic balance and respecting the historical and cultural traditions of the city. That is not the role or the expertise of UNOPS. The best people to do this are Saint Lucian architects, planners and engineers, who understand our culture, our traditions and the important roles that the various buildings and networks play in the life of the city of Castries. Castries certainly has to be redeveloped, but we have more than enough skilled and experienced homegrown talent to plan and do this.
Thirdly, what becomes of two of the arms of our government when the Court and the Parliament buildings are demolished? I would have thought that securing new premises for our Judicial and Legislative arms would be the first priority of the government with respect to any plans for the city of Castries. Both of these buildings are too small and in need of repair/replacement and I would support any plan that speaks to the establishment of modern and spacious premises for the Judiciary and the Legislature in suitable locations. However, this announcement by the Prime Minister appears to be focused primarily on developing a ‘central park’ in Castries for visitors, instead of improving the work flow of the city and the accommodation for the arms of government, and for me, this is a seriously misplaced priority.
Finally, why are we seeking to construct a new green space when we have done such a poor job of maintaining the existing green spaces in our city? Can we not do more with the Derek Walcott Square to improve it? When was the last time the flora and the landscape of this beautiful, historical and culturally significant facility was attended to? There is significant room for improvement in the Derek Walcott Square. Then there is the George V Park, which we fondly know as The Gardens. As a young boy I walked through and took photos in The Gardens on Sunday afternoons and I played basketball on its courts on afternoons and weekends. Why are we not rehabilitating George V Park before we establish a new park? The Gardens has immense historical, cultural and social significance to the city of Castries. Has the government decided that The Gardens is beyond rehabilitation or is in an area where we do not wish to encourage people, particularly tourists, to visit? Is it considered a bad or unsafe area in our city that we have now decided to virtually ring fence and leave to its own devices? I have been and always will be a strong advocate for the preservation and establishment of green spaces and the protection of our natural environment, but the decision here to establish a new ‘central park’ runs counter to what we have seen to be the philosophy of this government. Therefore, I am unable to take this announcement at face value.
The Prime Minister is fond of informing people who question his decisions that he was elected and given the authority to govern the country and he is, therefore, under no obligation to listen to or incorporate the recommendations or concerns that are brought to him by citizens of this country. I am sorry Prime Minister, but this is not how this works. As the Prime Minister of this country you are obligated to listen to and take into consideration the views and concerns of the citizens of this country. Where these views and concerns speak to issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of citizens and address changes that you are proposing that will fundamentally alter the social, political, economic, cultural or environmental landscape of our country, you are mandated to take them into consideration. This is not a game of cricket on the beach where you own the bats and the balls and you get to decide who can play and who cannot. The equipment, the tools, the assets, and the resources you are playing with belong to the citizens of our country and we have every right, constitutionally and morally, to voice our opinion about what you do with them, how you do it, when you do it, where you do it, and with whom you do it. You would do well to understand this, even if it is belatedly.