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National Trust not ‘living up to mandate’
Although the National Trust has several ongoing outreach programmes, the organisation is still falling short of its mandate, nearly 22 years after the National Trust Act was passed in 1991.
The purpose of the trust was primarily to ensure the legal protection and preservation of T&T’s historical buildings and heritage sites. With the compilation of a list, which the trust will submit to the Attorney General for approval, the sites and buildings will become legally protected.
However, there are still no legally-protected heritage sites or historical buildings in T&T. National Trust deputy chairman Dr Kumar Mahabir says the process of listing the sites for legal protection is underway. In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian on Wednesday, Mahabir said a list was submitted to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan approximately two months ago.
He could not name all the sites on the list but said the Magnificent Seven buildings around the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, were included. Mahabir has been with the trust for the past two years. Asked about its accomplishments, he noted the book on T&T’s heritage buildings published by the trust last year and its public awareness campaign, which consists of lectures, tours and assistance to researchers and documentary filmmakers.
Mahabir admitted, however, that public awareness campaigns could not turn back the clock on the deterioration and ultimate loss, in some cases, of many historical sites and buildings. He said the trust had not submitted a list to the AG before last year because the process was unknown. “We were not sure of the proper procedure which we only discovered a few months ago,” he said.
Mahabir said the board did not know detailed dossiers were required for each site and the act did not give details of the process. In fact the act, which can be found on the Ministry of Legal Affairs’ Web site, clearly outlines the process for listing, including the dossier requirement, in its accompanying regulations. While Mahabir blames a lack of knowledge, architect Rudylynn Roberts believes the trust has not been operating in the spirit of the act.
In a telephone interview, Roberts, who is president of Citizens for Conservation, said: “If you look at the National Trust Act and how the council is set up and how the council is selected, you’ll see that things don’t add up. “The trust is supposed to operate as a statutory body but is treated as a department in a government office.”
It currently falls under the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration and was previously under the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism. National Trust chairman Vel Lewis is the deputy permanent secretary at the National Diversity Ministry and has been chairman of the trust since 1999. Attempts to reach Lewis through messages with his secretary, numerous calls to his cellphone and text messages have been unsuccessful.
Roberts said there had also been a lack of political will and funding for the trust to operate effectively. It currently has two staff members and is housed in an office at the National Museum, Port-of-Spain. A member of the trust, who preferred not to be identified, said there had been a lack of quality governance and accountability.
The member said the trust was not solely to blame for problems facing local conservation, since many historical buildings were the responsibility of the Ministry of Works’ Historical Restoration Unit which has not been provided with adequate funding or politcal investment.
Who makes up the Trust
Chairman: Vel Lewis
Deputy chairman: Dr Kumar Mahabir
Treasurer: Babu Ketema
Secretary: Gloria Simon
Executive members: Jalaudin Khan, Shamshu Deen, Rawle Mitchell, Louis Vilain, James Telfer, Heather Dawn Herrera
What the act says:
General purposes of the trust as defined in the National Trust Act:
The trust is established for the purpose of carrying out the functions given to it by this act, which include:
(a) Listing and acquiring such property of interest as the trust considers appropriate.
(b) Permanently preserving lands that are property of interest and as far as practicable, retaining their natural features and conserving the animal and plant life.
(c) Preserving, maintaining, repairing and servicing or arranging for the preservation of property of interest other than land and where such property of interest comprises buildings, augmenting the amenities of such buildings and their surroundings.
(d) Making provision for the access to and enjoyment of property of interest by the public.
(e) Encouraging research into property of interest including, where applicable, any animal, plant or marine life associated therewith.
(f) Compiling photographic or architectural records of property of interest.
(g) Making the public aware of the value and beauty of the heritage of T&T.
(h) Advising the Government on the conservation and preservation of property of interest and on any or all of the matters referred to above.
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