Repairing State House Editorial
Stabroek News
September 20, 2001

A correspondent in our letter columns yesterday asked the question as to why so much money had to be spent on the rehabilitation of State House. Behind that question, of course, lie certain assumptions about priorities in a country, many of whose people find it difficult to make ends meet, and where basic social services leave a great deal to be desired.

Justifying expenditure on culture in a developing nation is always a hard sell. But if a government, even in difficult circumstances, cannot see its function as being something more than simply supplying the most basic needs of a population, the country will never progress. A society needs a vision, and part of that vision is built on the good things that have gone before. Where buildings are concerned, we cannot allow every historical structure to be destroyed or fall into decay, so that we are rebuilding from scratch all the time. In such circumstances, one would lose altogether the architectural traditions which make a nation unique, and would be borrowing from outside all the time. If that approach were to be extended to every part of the cultural spectrum, we would soon find ourselves without a past, without a culture, without an identity and without any foundation on which to build for the future.

In the case of State House, it was the home of the British governors from the 1850s onwards. It began as a fairly plain, square structure, which was altered according to whim by different governors over time. Although it is far from being the best example of Georgetown architecture, it is nevertheless not unattractive, and has acquired a certain stately air with the passage of the years. As a historical edifice of some importance, the government has a duty to preserve it.

In addition, it really should be the home of Guyana's president, and it is a good sign that Mr Jagdeo has finally moved into it. Apart from the fact that old wooden buildings last much longer when occupied, a head of state needs a fixed residence which will become a symbol associated with the presidency; it lends to the dignity of the office. The classic example, of course, is the White House in the United States. Of the earlier executive presidents of this country, only Dr Cheddi Jagan saw the importance of living in State House if traditions surrounding the presidency were to evolve.

As for the actual size of the sum expended in repairing the house - approaching $100M - the figure would undoubtedly have been much more modest if a policy of ongoing maintenance had been adopted at an early stage. Old wooden buildings need constant attention, but if they are cared for, they can last as long as structures made of other materials, as St Andrews Kirk has amply demonstrated. It was obvious even to a casual observer, that State House had been left unattended for too long and was falling into a state of disrepair; it was hardly surprising, therefore, that it was so expensive to restore. It might be noted in passing that the same mistake was made in the case of the Red House, although in that instance the repairs were undertaken by the Barama Company.

Now that the President is actually living in State House, one hopes that funds will be budgeted annually for its maintenance.