The long-standing seat of Parliament, the Red House, flanked by Abercromby and St Vincent Streets in T&T's capital of Port-of-Spain, today looks as though it barely survived a hurricane and hurried repair work is being undertaken by a motley crew. The view from the outside is unsightly to say the least, and there seems some measure of mystery exactly where the repairs are heading, and to what use the building will be put when the renovations are completed, if indeed that is the plan. The Red House, which Prime Minister Patrick Manning several years ago boldly earmarked as the future Office of the Prime Minister, was under the aegis of the State's construction machine, the Calder Hart-run Urban Development Company (Udecott), for the repairs which started in 2004 to be completed. Udecott got into the picture after the Canadian firm of Genivar seemingly ran into difficulties on the project. In recent days, however, repairs seem to have stalled and the Red House is not cutting a pretty picture, cradled as it is with scaffolding and its roof enfolded with tarpaulin. Most of the perimeter is enclosed with tall corrugated iron sheets.
Run around for information
Oddly enough, when the Sunday Guardian checked with Udecott to find out what was going on, communications specialist Roxanne Stapleton-Whyms was very definite that all queries about the Red House now had to be directed to the Ministry of Public Administration. But no information from that Ministry was forthcoming. The communications specialist there, Natasha Ramnauth, suggested e-mailing a list of questions the Sunday Guardian wished answered about the fate of the Red House. This done, it was then ordered that the list of questions be put on an official Guardian letterhead and faxed to the Permanent Secretary, Arlene McComie. That was accomplished. Then another request came that Public Administration Minister Kennedy Swarathsingh would afford this newspaper a one-on-one interview to tell all about the Red House.
That was two weeks ago, but Susan Hunte, Minister Swarathsingh's secretary, has repeatedly indicated that he is absolutely tied up and would not be available for the promised interview. She was told that a perfect compromise would be for the Minister to respond to the queries posed in the questionnaire forwarded to the PS. So far the Sunday Guardian is waiting patiently on the honourable Minister to untie his schedule to satisfy the public's curiosity. It is not known whether the rumoured imminent Cabinet reshuffle has quelled any eagerness Swarathsingh may have had to venture into plans for the Red House, an area that has been fraught with red-hot controversy in recent times.
$175m earmarked for repairs
...September 2010 last given date for completion
A search of the Guardian archives indicated that last time any solid facts about the Red House was mooted was by Information Minister Neil Parsanal, who in October 2008 said $46 million of the estimated $175 million earmarked for repair of the venerable building had been spent. Parsanal told Parliament in response to an Opposition question that September 2010 was the date set for completion of repairs, which included preserving the Red House's distinctive features but attending also to rotted woodwork, loose and broken roof slates, upgrading electrical equipment and installing an underground standby generator. At present, however, the Parliament staff are groaning under the inconvenience they are undergoing to continue working in the Red House. From the staff's point of view the attempted repairs have now become a huge ball of confusion.
"We're just the occupants," a source stated, adding that they understood the plan had been to repair the roof on the south wing of the Red House, then work on the north wing's roof. However, work had started on the north wing's roof before repairs had been completed on the south wing. And according to reports a lot of ceiling work is still to be done. The Sunday Guardian was told at one time there was some consideration being given to separating the some 150 Parliament staff, which includes police officers who man the police post there, to buildings around Port-of-Spain, to clear the way for speedier repairs. But so far they have heard nothing further. Manning evidently thinks it is not yet time for him to move in to the Red House. "There are no signs that the Office of the Prime Minister is ready to move in," the source noted.