There’s an increasing plethora of issues in Barbados screaming for the attention of those who will be elected to govern this island in the upcoming general election.
Of course, foremost are the economic woes – spiralling debt, falling international reserves, a decline in foreign investment, onerous taxes, low productivity, the high cost of living and more.
Then there is the long-running stink on the south coast, public transportation woes, deteriorating roads, poor garbage collection, crime and security, an overburdened justice system and the like.
Now you can add to that poor maintenance of public buildings.
This issue is as old as the hills and for all the talk, wasted dollars and assurances we are no wiser.
Yesterday, important operations at the grand, ultra modern Supreme Court Complex, which sits on White Park Road, St Michael and houses workers including employees at the Registration Department, Marshals, lawyers and other staff, were brought to a halt.
The occupants were forced to abandon the building because of environmental issues.
We are still awaiting word from Supreme Court Registrar Barbara Cooke-Alleyne on the exact nature of the problem, but we know they must have been significant enough when she told the media,” scientists [have been on board with us since last year November.”
General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers Roslyn Smith was far clearer.
Describing the complex as a “sick building”, she revealed that a main trouble area was “ the roof and that would have to be changed because the mould is dropping down onto the workers.”
“There are other conditions that are affecting workers at all levels,” she said, adding that too many workers have been coming down with respiratory illnesses.
Prior to the troubles at the Supreme Court, staff at the Immigration Department staged a work stoppage to force authorities to pay attention to their plight. Their offices at Careenage House, Wharf Road were condemned several years ago. The workers are still waiting to move in the building at the Barbados Tourism Investment Car Park Complex on Princess Alice Highway.
In another case, staff at the Treasury Building have walked off the job on two occasions since the start of the year because of a foul odour.
Why are we repeatedly seeing these problems? Our efforts at preventative maintenance have been an abysmal failure. There appears to be little to no appreciation for preventative maintenance. In fact as Lil Rick enlightened us, we seem to have a culture of Mash Up and Buy Back in Barbados.
We seemingly prefer to spend millions of taxpayers dollars – money we can’t afford – to lease other buildings rather than implement a rigourous maintenance programme.
These problems didn’t crop up overnight, but have been persistent through the years as Governments current and past failed to enforce a comprehensive preventative programme to manage facilities.
As a result, we have a growing number of “sick” public buildings and abandoned buildings, which are eyesores and the home to all sorts of vermin – the Old National Insurance Scheme building on Fairchild Street, the former Louis Lynch Secondary School, the Carnegie Library and many more are embarrassing examples.The longer we wait to fix the small problems, the bigger and more expensive they become.
This rush to fix problems when they reach crisis levels has to end. Authorities need to allocate resources from their budgets, albeit scarce, to address the issue of maintenance and set in motion a comprehensive, long-term programme for public structures.
Government has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for its employees.
It calls for the development ofa comprehensive plan to perform maintenance, repairs, and replacements to prevent failures before they ever have the chance to occur.
The process canstart with an assessment of all public facilities, their repair needs, and the workforce required to maintain them properly.
A well -trained team of maintenance professionals can extend the life of buildings for a long time, resulting in millions of dollars in savings.
It is Government’s job to protect public assets. It makes no sense to build a new Supreme Court Complex, or spanking new offices for the Immigration Department and think they will take care of themselves. As the wise elderly folk among us would say that is a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach.