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Afra: Nelson Mandela Park revisited: the curious silence of the National Trust

Your silence will not protect you’—Audre Lorde, on the false benefits and toxic consequences earned from calculated or cowardly silences.

I had no intention of returning to this issue but Newsday’s Friday 27 August 2021 article (Woodford Square to become heritage site (newsday.co.tt) was a sharp reminder that there is more to be said.

Photo: Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez.

The article explained that the Port-of-Spain Mayor had a ‘private consultation’(!) with the National Trust on 25 August 2021 as a result of which it was decided that Woodford Square is to become a national heritage site.

Just like Nelson Mandela Park, which is listed in the Heritage Asset Register of the National Trust.

The National Trust of T&T was established by statutes—Acts No. 11 of 1991 and 31 of 1999—and is listed with State Enterprises and Boards under the Ministry of Planning and Development. It is possible to take membership of the National Trust and I have been a member for some years, which is why I posted the following on its Facebook page on 11 August 2021:

Is the National Trust going to make any statement on the proposed revitalisation of the Nelson Mandela Park in POS? I am an anxious, dues-paying member…thank you… August 11 at 9:24 AM·

For whatever reason, that post is no longer visible on that FB page so I am thankful that I have kept my receipts.

In its own words, The National Trust says that it is:

Image: The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago.

‘… established for the purpose of:

  • listing and acquiring such property of interest as the Trust considers appropriate;
  • permanently preserving lands that are property of interest and as far as practicable, retaining their natural features and conserving the animal and plant life;’ (my emphasis)

In accordance with its stated statutory purpose, the National Trust should have made some comment or intervention in the proposals for the ‘astroturfing’ of the Nelson Mandela Park under a public private partnership; that is my considered view.

But on its FB page, its website or its Instagram page, there is no comment whatsoever on the issue and I am unaware that any National Trust official has appeared in either the voice, vision or print media to discuss the proposals related to it.

In light of the National Trust’s perfect silence, the pertinent question is whether that silence arises from an error of omission or from oversight or whether saying nothing was an intended response.

Photo: Nelson Mandela Park in St Clair.

The National Trust’s silence was like an echo from not so long ago of The UWI’s silence on the Tobago Sandals proposals. This episode is yet another sobering example of institutional collapse, which forces us to recalculate our bearings on the journey to development.

Clearly, corruption is far broader than outrageous financial benefits, as shown by these new bearings. When we are witness to such silences from the very public institutions which are mandated to have responsible and informed oversight, we get some idea of how far off course we are and how far we really still have to travel.

Of course, we also know that the Minister of Planning and Development attended the virtual consultation on 26 July 2021, so did the National Trust also attend? Does the Trust have a copy of the proposal and, if yes, what are its views?

If it does not, did the Trust during the aforementioned ‘private consultation’ on 25 August 2021 request from the PoS Mayor a copy of the proposal?

Even though this proposal has now reportedly been shelved after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s intervention on 2 August 2021, we probably have not seen the last of this matter. I would not be at all surprised if these proposals were revised and re-presented at some stage.

Image: A National Trust advert for a consultation.

The final irony, as it were, is that on the very day I posted my query and posted the first part of this article to wired868—11 August 2021—in conjunction with Citizens for Conservation, the National Trust hosted a webinar on ‘Central Park Conservancy—Forty years of Park Partnership NYC’.

So it seems that the National Trust has given prominence to parks in its program of webinars and so on, making its silence on Nelson Mandela Park all the more unacceptable.

Our country needs active and engaged agencies and institutions to protect our essential interests, so this National Trust silence is in fact inimical to the public interest.

#brightforspite #onlydemwenttoschool  #dehtakeweforfool

By way of full disclosure, National Trust chair Margaret McDowall has been my good friend and colleague over an extended period. What is more, Ms McDowall has given extensive and exemplary public service, most notably, in my view, by executing successful public private partnerships during her protracted tenure at NIPDEC.

Editor’s Note: This discussion is hosted at afraraymond.net.

About Afra Raymond

Afra Raymond is a Chartered Surveyor and Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. He is the ex-president of Institute of Surveyors and immediate past president of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), having served between December 2010 and November 2015.

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