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Better vision for capital city needed
The Government Campus is the name bestowed on several buildings which tower over downtown Port-of-Spain. At present the area is a ghost town: the buildings are unfinished and unoccupied. Started way back in 2004, the project has fallen behind its scheduled finishing date, with the last reported on being mid-2011, a year ago. Naturally, there have been cost overruns too, although the final tally is as yet unknown. The project was the brainchild of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, and hence is not likely to be looked upon favourably by the present administration. Indeed, it seems it is regarded as a giant folly. Nevertheless, the project has long passed the point of no return, and must be completed. And the quicker the better, since the longer it takes the more expensive it becomes. One of the hidden costs of the scheme is the fact that the government ministries and agencies which should by now be housed in this campus are instead accommodated in rented office space in premium locations such as Nicholas Towers.
Millions of taxpayers’ dollars will be saved once those entities move into the state-owned Government Campus. In fact, money might already have been saved. Some ministries were moved into the waterfront towers originally planned as an “international financial centre” that never materialised. But are those buildings now fully occupied, or is the State still paying out unnecessary sums on renting office space elsewhere? From another perspective, however, it may be a good thing that all those skyscrapers are as yet unoccupied. One of the first components of the Government Campus to be built was the Parkade. But many frustrated drivers can report that much of it is already permanently reserved for existing government staff. Similarly, most of the carpark at the Hyatt is set aside for ministry staff and the Parliament department. If the buildings were fully occupied and staffed, where would the additional cars fit? And has any thought been given to the nightmare traffic that will ensue downtown when thousands of public servants leave work at the same time each afternoon? Meanwhile, a couple of blocks away from the Government Campus, a parliamentary committee has recommended the construction of an additional building to house parliamentary offices and other facilities.
At least Parliament has taken into consideration that parking needs to be provided for MPs and parliamentary staff. But part of the grand vision for a new Parliament includes closing a block of Knox Street to traffic. It’s a picturesque prospect—except for the thousands of drivers who can expect to be trapped in gridlock traffic on a regular basis as a result. The idea of pedestrianising a section of downtown Port-of-Spain is not new.
Such a plan was proposed decades ago, when there were far fewer cars on the roads. The plan, however, fell by the wayside, as have so many others. The previous government planned to extend the development of the waterfront all the way along Wrightson Road. In his 2010 budget, the first Finance Minister of the current administration, Winston Dookeran, announced that one of the five “economic poles” he had earmarked for development was east Port-of-Spain. Again, this was not the first time such a scheme has been mooted and has failed to materialise. Meanwhile, at regular intervals city mayor Louis Lee Sing continues to announce his own initiatives, which so far have largely failed to garner the support of the other necessary authorities, sometimes for partisan political reasons. A larger, integrated vision needs to be imagined, agreed upon and made concrete for the capital city. Meanwhile, its decline continues.
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