Suffering from a lack of (fill in the blank)

Recently, Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin, the minister of public safety, pronounced that he will shoulder the cost of financing “whatever,” repairs are needed at the St. John’s Police Station. He made the commitment following the release of embarrassing photographs of the conditions that the police officers are made to endure at the station.

According to Benjamin, his decision to provide relief came in response to a complaint by a female police officer who highlighted the plight that she and her colleagues are plagued with on a permanent basis. He said the phone call, which was made over a week before his announcement, was enough to move him to action so that he could provide relief to those dedicated officers working at the precinct.

To some, it was a bit of a shock to hear that the officers were working in extremely unsanitary conditions, suffering from a lack of proper washrooms, broken showers and no running water. Worse, that they had had to endure those conditions for several years.

Yes! Not days! Not weeks! Not months! But years, without the basics.

Remember, we are not talking about some remote police outpost in the country (as if anywhere in Antigua can be considered “remote”).

No! We are talking about the main police station in our capital, located at the corner of Newgate and Market Streets. Easy to get to and always full of officers and civilians on a day-to-day basis. Lots of people who would need to use a washroom or simply wash their hands.

Others in the community responded with a shrug of their shoulders indicating that the situation is nothing new and regularly in the news. Their take on it is that the minister is in election mode and there is nothing more to his offer than to look good and get votes in the upcoming election. Otherwise, they say, he would have taken action years ago. They say that his deep dive into his pocket could have happened at any time in the last almost four years because he has known of the situation since UPP days. We compliment the minister for taking the initiative, but the real question is: should the minister be undertaking this project out of his pocket? We think not! Where have we reached that the police station located in our capital is not provided with running water and basic maintenance. There is no hiding the embarrassment revealed by the pictures of filthy, broken toilet bowls and tanks, the cracked urinals, the rusted showers and the broken tiles at the station. Add to that, the unfinished construction work which makes the washrooms appear even more unsightly. Luckily, we did not get the tour because according to the officers, you can smell the washroom stench long before you reach the area.

How do we find money for free concerts when we cannot find a few dollars to provide basic washroom facilities for the main police station in St. John’s? Where are the priorities? Wait, sorry, we forgot, the prime minister cleared that up, when he said, “Man shall not live by hard work alone but, by entertainment too!” As a side note, the minister has likely set a dangerous precedent for his colleagues and they are probably not happy. Other ministries and departments can only expect their minister to be as “caring” to their plight and come to their rescue in a similar manner.

The situation at the St. John’s Police Station is not isolated. From our investigations, there are many stations throughout the country that are in need of repair. Stations that lack the very basics, much like St. John’s. Late last year, the Liberta Police Station was closed temporarily in order to facilitate the health authorities to carry out fumigation exercise on the premises, due to an insect infestation. Also in May of last year, the officers attached to the Freetown Police Station wrote to the police commissioner demanding the immediate relocation of the station as they lament being forced to work under extreme conditions, including sewage seeping from the pipes on the upstairs toilet, broken faucets and damaged electrical outlets. In their letter, they described the situation as “insurmountable and unbearable,” while adding that it is a “health and safety hazard.”

And it is not just the police stations that need attention. Very often, other buildings that house government ministries and departments find themselves in the news because of deplorable conditions. In the midst of the complaints from the police at the St. John’s station was a story about the workers at the Ministry of Civil Aviation who refused to work until their work environment was addressed. The workers complained of nausea, stomach pains, coughing, and, in one case, diarrhoea. They likened the smell in the office to a carcass and faeces and said that there is a pervasive and persistent stench of mold. Will hope to see Sir Robin to the rescue.

This just seems to be a recurring nightmare. Who is responsible for maintaining government buildings? We presume that in some cases it is the landlord and in others, public works; although we are told that in many cases, the government assumes the responsibility for maintenance under the standard leases. If that is the case, then they need to get their act together and fix what needs to be fixed. We often criticise government workers for being unproductive and having a ‘push up face’. Maybe, next time, we should visit the washrooms before being too critical.

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