Doing things right
Stabroek News
November 22, 2002

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Sometimes things are done right. And so it is in the case of the ornamental ceiling in the Parliament chamber which was fashioned by the Maltese architect, Cesar Castellani, some time in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The plaster canopy with its rococco flourishes has to come down because the beams to which it is attached are rotten. Initially the public was told that the contract for the work had already been awarded, and that the capability existed within Guyana to restore the ceiling to its pristine state after the wooden beams had been replaced. However, not everyone was confident that the expertise to make judgements about the dismantling and reassembling of Castellani's handiwork resided within the country, and questions were raised about the possibility of securing an overseas expert to advise the Parliament Office and the contractors in this regard.

On Wednesday, Mr S E Isaacs, the Clerk of the National Assembly, issued a press release stating that Mr David Flaherty, a consultant and tradesman in the field of historic ornamental plaster had arrived from the United States of America to advise the Parliament Office on the removal, storage and replacement of the plaster-of-paris work in the Parliament Chamber. (See our report in yesterday's edition.)

In addition to his academic qualifications, said the statement, Mr Flaherty had more than forty years' experience in the field of plaster restoration and conservation, and had undertaken commissions for the White House, the US Department of State, the US Department of the Interior, the Capitol, the New Jersey State Capitol, the New York Public Library and the Hotel Letellier in Paris, among others. His visit here had been facilitated by the National Trust of Guyana and the Smithsonian Institute of the United States.

As stated above, this is clearly the right way to go about things. It shows a sensitivity to our heritage and an understanding of the need to conserve it. Whenever the repair of historic buildings is involved, the National Trust should be consulted at an early stage, and if there is any doubt at all about whether the expertise exists locally to undertake rehabilitation work, then the advice of a qualified overseas consultant should be sought. In the case in question, of course, moulded plaster ceilings are a rarity in this country, and one could not reasonably expect that the skills necessary for their restoration would be found in any abundance here. It is entirely appropriate in the circumstances, therefore, that Mr Flaherty should have been asked to give the relevant authorities the benefit of his opinion.

However, the Parliament Office in general and Mr Isaacs in particular deserve recognition for more than just displaying a sensitivity to the national heritage. Rather than plough on with the contract for the Castellani ceiling regardless, they were also predisposed to postpone the contract's implementation in response to suggestions that an overseas consultant should be contacted for advice before work began. In an era when officialdom is perceived as unimaginative, uncaring and deaf to public pleas, here is an office displaying a preparedness first to listen, and then to review an earlier, possibly flawed, decision. It is a model which one could only wish would be adopted throughout the public service.

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