San Fernando mayor laments bureaucracy as City Hall falls apart

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Frustrated San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello stands in the midst of the rubble where rehabilitation work has stalled on the area which housed the council’s chamber at City Hall. – Yvonne Webb

FROM the outside, the San Fernando City Hall seems aesthetically pleasing. But a walk inside the 91-year-old building tells a tale of woeful dilapidation.

Termite-infested floors covered up with carpet, a leaking roof, undermining of the lower floor when rain falls, are just some of what ails this landmark and seat of local government power.

It is for these and other reasons San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello sought approval from the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government to overhaul the building and make the inside just as visually pleasing and sturdy.

Money from unspent balances were identified for the preservation of the building was estimated to be about $2.5 million last year. Seven months later, work has stopped and the project now has an estimate of about $3 million for its completion.

Regrello explained, this and several other projects in San Fernando have been put on hold while awaiting approval from auditors, and the cost keeps escalating.

“We have the money, we have made recommendations. They (auditors) have gone through these recommendations, but I don’t know what is causing the delay. We have been at this stage for seven months and I can’t say why.

“Is San Fernando being sabotaged?”

He said Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi is aware of the problem and is working with the council so the work can resume.

Scaffolding in front the San Fernando City Hall building where rehabilitation work has stalled. – Lincoln Holder

In the meantime, the upper floor of the building on Harris Promenade, which previously housed the council chamber, is no longer occupied. Termite-infested windows and floors have been removed, as well as the ceiling – exposing the leaking roof. All the rubble torn down, now sits on the floor as contractors have ceased work.

The corporation’s monthly statutory meeting was held in the auditorium next door on Wednesday.

Asked about the cessation of the project, Regrello explained the problem with city hall’s repair, like several other projects embarked upon, including a sink hole on Marriot Street, has to do with money – unspent balances – yet to be released.

“Although the unspent balance is in our possession, we cannot use it unless we get approval from the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government (RDLG). The auditors are yet to approve it.”

He said the auditors looked at recommendations and a budget presented, but keep identifying simple flaws.

He explained there are 12 auditors assigned for the 14 corporations, so they see them once or twice a month.

“It is really frustrating. We got government approval to start because city hall was in a bad way. The flooring is plywood and it was covered up with carpet. The ceiling was totally termite infested and leaking. We have to do it over.

“We had to put up a wall because homeless people were sleeping on the compound. I recall one morning when an ambassador was scheduled to visit and we arrived at the building, we were confronted by faeces on the entrance.”

He spoke about a video of a woman washing her private parts at a sink at the entrance in keeping with covid19 health protocols.

“We had to do a proper wall because this is our iconic building, and did not want it to look shabby or second rate. We also had to pave the grassy area to the front as water was seeping into the lower floor, undermining the structure.”

Regrello said contractors started work without pay, but as time passed with no guarantee of when payment would be made, they stopped work.

“They don’t want to invest money here and then have to wait three to four years for payment.”

Regrello, who is statute barred from sitting as mayor after his term ends this year, having served three terms, said he is hoping to hand over a completed building to his successor.