PRESIDENT Paula-Mae Weekes’ speech yesterday was short. Its brevity was as powerful as her entreaty to those gathered at the historic reopening of the Red House. She suggested there is little time to waste, that while it is appropriate for us to celebrate the return of our Parliament to its long-standing home, the country has many other things on its mind. She was right.
We express pride and relief that the long process of renovating the Red House has, at last, come to an end. But now that the facade’s restoration is over, perhaps it is a time for a renovation of our politics too?
The President’s call on both the Government and the Opposition to work together to address crime, violence against women, and the welfare of children was hardly new. Nor was her entreaty to politicians to reject acrimony and contempt. But yesterday, there was good cheer on all sides: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar shook hands, MPs warmly embraced. Even Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who next week will give us his latest economic prognosis, was beaming. Will the mood of camaraderie last? From Monday we will see.
It was an important day particularly given the history of the location. Even before its foundation was laid in 1844, it seems the site was a significant one for the First Peoples. Later, the original building was designed by Richard Bridgens. His design proved difficult to realise: there were years of delays and overruns.
When it was finally done, the building came under attack during a riot over reform of laws affecting debtors. It survived that assault intact, but then burned down during the Water Riots of 1903. What remained was rehabilitated. However, the Red House once more, during the 1990 terror attack, came under siege.
And yet, like the ship of Theseus whose parts are perpetually replenished, it has never lost its status as the epicentre of our democracy. With a reported $441 million having been spent to restore this building, it is essential that a programme of maintenance is implemented so that taxpayers never have to bear the burden of this expense again.
As made clear by the presence of protesters in Woodford Square yesterday, it is also important that there be full transparency in relation to the costs incurred for this project. We are pleased to hear that the premises are disability-friendly. But there are other questions such as: Will the building be “green,” managing energy use efficiently? What will its status be under the scheme of listing for heritage sites? And what is the fate of the plan to make the entire area one historic district?
In the context of the challenges ahead, aspects of yesterday’s pomp and circumstance were arguably gratuitous. Some feel the ceremony could have been more circumspect. We simply say: now that the homecoming is over, it’s back to work.