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A breach of trust
The consequences of the inability of the National Trust to have any effect on the deterioration and destruction of historical sites and buildings of Trinidad and Tobago has been evident for some time. From time to time, the state of this building or that site will be highlighted, there will be suitable and sustained hand wringing, and promises will be made to address the matter.
Such posturing has skirted the disturbing fact that for 22 years, there has been a National Trust Act in place in T&T, mandated to list and preserve these fragile historical assets of the country. In July 2011, Jack Warner, the Minister of Works of the day, noted the destruction of our built heritage, and said that “the National Trust has to be revamped and given a whole new perspective.”
In response, the civil activism group Citizens for Conservation who were responsible for raising public awareness of the problem three decades ago and drafted the National Trust Bill offered to help. In the 22 years since the act was proclaimed, not a single historical building has been protected by the National Trust and several notable buildings have either been destroyed or fallen into such ruin that restoration is likely to be prohibitively expensive.
The glacial pace of repairs on the Red House, Stollmeyer’s Castle and President’s House are a reminder that restoration is not a simple matter and the work requires significant measures of both cash and patience. A list of buildings for protection was submitted to the Attorney General two months ago to begin the process of legal protection. National Trust member Dr Kumar Mahabir explained that the list was not submitted before now because the process for doing so was unknown.
Of the eight activities that the National Trust was charged to deliver in the public interest, it cannot be said to have delivered on a single one in any meaningful way.
It members may protest that the Trust has produced a book of heritage buildings and offers lectures, tours and assistance to researchers, but these efforts barely service its reason for existence. Citizens for Conservation has again stepped forward to provide an actionable list of projects for the National Trust to consider and has offered its help in getting the state body back to its primary mandate. That it has failed, for more than two decades, to fulfil its central mission cannot be denied.
The intent of the Act and the National Trust that resulted from it was not a Government office checking off a list of tasks but an active body making real world interventions to preserve artifacts and buildings precious to our heritage.
It has conspicuously failed to do so and should accept that its failure has been a particularly painful dereliction of national duty. The Trust’s chairman and executive, many of whom are known to be honourable, learned persons, should craft a letter of advice to the government, step down and seek to ensure that their successors learn from these dangerous lapses and go on to build a Trust worthy of the name.
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