Nelson Mandela Park revisited: the 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 Trinidad and Tobago 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. 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:

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

“…established for the purpose of:

  1. listing and acquiring such property of interest as the Trust considers appropriate;
  2. 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 Facebook 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.

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 & 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 the PM’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.

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.

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.

2 thoughts on “Nelson Mandela Park revisited: the silence of the National Trust

  1. Begs the question too. . .what’s happening with the World Renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre that’s in fact governed by a Trust? . . .the sheer inherent weight of meaning that goes with the title “Trust” demands some degree of tansparency one would think . Not at all disconnected are these two entities in the context of the loud “silence/secrecy” so well exposed in this article. . .in whom are we to place our “trust” that things are protected in this twin-island Republic?

  2. Thank you Raymond for holding a spotlight on these aspects of our development as a people that needs improvement. Perhaps our National Trust and other Public National Institutions charged with the role of responsible and informed oversight can help secure greater public awareness through more open sharing of their activities with us. I am thinking also, that sharing portions of this information with our school-aged population would contribute to helping us become more aware and build social responsibility in our citizens (youth), thus generating a legacy of active pride and care for the protection of our heritage. (the thing that’s sadly absent in our general claim of being TRINI). I live in Hope.

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