When lightning strikes twice

CALL IT divine intervention. The lightning that reportedly struck the statue of Mary, Our Lady of Laventille, at the Our Lady of Fatima RC Church on Picton Road did more than damage that object.

It sparked the generosity of a group of PNM officials who have pledged to return Mary to her pedestal.

But that fund-raising campaign, as inspired as it is, begs further questions about the State’s ability to maintain the hundreds of heritage sites around the country which, from time to time, need repair.

In this case, lightning strikes twice. By some accounts, in 1938 a previous statue in the same spot was destroyed. Nine years later, on May 18, 1947, Archbishop Finbar Ryan blessed the new statue, and it was put on top of the church, where it remained intact until last week.

Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds, Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland, La Horquetta/Talparo MP Foster Cummings, Senator Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing and Arima Mayor Cagney Casimire have all pledged $2,500 to help with possible restoration.

Even Satesh Ojah-Maharaj, who was screened for D’Abadie/O’Meara, pledged $1,000.

“It is a heritage site,” Scotland said. “It is important.”

Important, undoubtedly. But should such fundraising be necessary? Should public officials – or private individuals for that matter – have to dip into their own pockets to fund such projects?

There is already a statutory body in place with direct responsibility for precisely these types of situations.

Section 5 of the National Trust Act says that body is charged with “preserving, maintaining, repairing and servicing” heritage sites. To fulfil this mandate requires more than just an organisational structure, it also calls for planning and adequate levels of state funding.

The trust can raise funds from members of the public, but Parliament also has a role in appropriating money to it.

Presumably, the donations of the MPs will be applied through the trust, but some of those same officials will, after October 5, also be the ones overseeing the budget.

At a time when so many multi-million-dollar heritage projects have been newly completed (the Red House, President’s House, Whitehall, Mille Fleurs among them), how well is the trust working when it comes to maintaining such sites?

Such a question is not only pertinent to the matter of whether we get value for money. The health of the trust as a unit of organisation has implications for public procurement, given the expense often posed by restoration.

The appointment of a new CEO at the trust in July is a step in the right direction.

However, the lengthy process used to list heritage properties remains an issue.

And the gesture of the MPs demonstrates the trust would do well to raise its voice.


"When lightning strikes twice"

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