Monumental disgrace
Stabroek News
May 22, 2003

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Were it not for the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company's (GT&T) observance of the 10th anniversary of its purchase two years ago, and the resolve of some of its staff members to perform community service on that occasion, the national Independence monument located on Brickdam would have looked much more filthy than it now does.

GT&T's facelift did provide a short-lived relief from the surrounding squalor but, with the passage of time, the slide into ugliness resumed.

After years of neglect, the Independence monument has become a refuge for the homeless and destitute, some of whom would bring along bits of cardboard to sleep on and sheets of plastic to shelter beneath. It became a site for vendors to set up their stalls to attract office workers and schoolchildren in the neighbourhood; inevitably, there would be discarded fragments of food and the ubiquitous styrofoam food boxes and plastic soft drink bottles after they left.

The monument's dozen electric lamps, like the electricity service in the rest of the city, function fitfully. The structure itself is still sound but the once sparkling spires are now dulled and blemished by black grime. Parasitical plants sprout from crevices in the pedestals. Weeds have overgrown the huge plant pots, intended perhaps for lilies and flowers. Decorative walls and seats, painted in GT&T's now dingy company colours of blue and cream, are chipped and cracked.

The surrounding area displays evidence of similar neglect. The fence adjoining the Ministry of Health's compound is broken down. Drains are clogged and stagnant with the usual Georgetown debris. Parapets are covered with clumps of tall grass and bush. Filth, grime and graffiti compete with the elegance, grace and beauty of the once imposing structure.

A plaque proclaims the monument's official title, 'Guyana Independence Arch.' Without this, the foreign visitor could forget that she is standing before the artistic expression of the aspirations of a new nation and a symbol of Guyana's statehood. But nowadays, it is more a mirror of municipal misdoing than a magnet for tourists.

Designed by a Canadian and presented to the Government of Guyana as an Independence gift on May 22, 1966 by the then Canadian-based Demerara Bauxite Company, the monument is constructed of aluminium (made from Guyana's bauxite) in the form of an arch on a base of quartz stone from the Cuyuni-Mazaruni region. Three tubes rising skywards represent the three great rivers and original colonies - Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara - which were counties at the time of Independence. The six spires represent the ethnic groups - Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, Europeans, Indians and Portuguese.

In the early days after Independence, the monument, then well kept and equipped with functioning lamps amidst clean surroundings, was the favourite subject of postcards and prizewinning photographic competitions. It was the destination of tourists visiting the city - aesthetic in appearance, pluralistic in intention and modernistic in concept.

With the shift in political focus when February 23 was adopted as the national day in 1970, and with the construction of the 1763 Monument nearby as the 'National Monument' in 1976, the importance of the Independence Arch was eclipsed.

The onset of the economic depression of the 1980s, and the change in the political administration, triggered further shifts in attention away from the 1763 Monument until that was spruced up in a spurt of energy from the short-lived Movement for Economic Empowerment. That Monument, too, has been vandalized with some of the plaques being dug out, probably for sale as scrap metal.

Now that Independence Day is back in fashion and is to be a national holiday, and with the observance of Guyana's 37th anniversary of Independence next Monday, it is hoped that, between the Georgetown Mayor & City Council and the National Trust of Guyana, agreement could be reached to restore that symbol of statehood to its former stately appearance.

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