PAULA-MAE WEEKES, the President, has already begun to put her stamp on the office she now holds. She has deferred foreign travels to settle down to work and has, as disclosed this week, declined to move into the cottage on the grounds of President’s House.
In relation to the latter, the President’s reasons for doing so are personal: she does not want to disturb arrangements in relation to the care of her mother with whom she has long lived. Still, her decision throws into harsh relief the state of the official premises.
The State must make every effort to live up to its own promises to complete restoration of President’s House. Furthermore, existing facilities should be made appropriate not only for the postholder but also members of the public and visiting dignitaries with whom the President is expected to interact.
It is not acceptable in this modern day and age when government offices are housed in sprawling skyscrapers and campus plazas for there to be no access for the disabled or wheelchair-bound at a location as symbolic and important as President’s House.
Furthermore, it is unacceptable for the office facilities of the President – whoever the postholder happens to be – to be devoid of basic things like a lift. And the presence of cargo containers that serve as storage containers on the official grounds of the President sends the wrong signal. In this regard, Weekes herself has made a strong case for why greater care must be taken.
“They’re important for the national psyche,” she said of historic sites like President’s House in a Newsday interview shortly before taking up office. “The citizen going by can’t help feeling it says something if the building that should house the head of state is in shambles. I understand that resources are a big problem, but every effort should be made to restore these buildings to their former dignity, even if it’s only the facade at first.”
Udecott must be given the resources necessary to complete the restoration of President’s House. The main building, built between 1873 and 1876, is too valuable to consign to the waste bin of history. While it was patterned after Victorian-style colonial architecture it was constructed mainly of iron and steel superstructures, clad in local blue limestone from the Piccadilly and Laventille Quarries. The gardens are made up of plants and flowers brought from all over the world.
Therefore, the premises are a potent symbol of the potential of our multicultural nation with its fusion of cultures and influences. Far from being simply a relic of the past, it is our very own President’s House.