PORT-OF-SPAIN – COME Monday Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his staff will move into Whitehall.
He will be the first prime minister to use it as his official office since it was closed for renovations because of leaking roofs and bad floors under the tenure of Patrick Manning in 2009.
Prime ministers have used Whitehall as the Office of Prime Minister since Dr Eric Williams. George Chambers, Arthur NR Robinson, Manning and Basdeo Panday have all used it. Only Kamla Persad-Bissessar had to use the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair Avenue, St Clair.
Speaking at the reopening ceremony at Whitehall on Thursday, Rowley said his office took delivery of the structure from the Urban Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT).
He said UDeCOTT had done extensive repairs.
Rowley said, “Today we accept from the contractors and the UDeCOTT staff, Whitehall, which the staff is beginning to move into, and over the weekend they will continue, and the prime minister will work here for the first time next week. Next Monday, the prime minister will come here to work for the first time in a very long, long time.”
Rowley defended the $32 million cost.
He said, “Symbolism is important, history is important because it connects you to who you are.”
Rowley said the committee to restore the country’s heritage buildings was also far advanced with the work on President’s House.
He said, “In the not-too-distant future I trust that Her Excellency would invite some of us to the reoccupation to another iconic building, President’s House, which is to be reopened and made available for occupancy in the very near future.”
Rowley said the chambers currently occupied by the Parliament at the Waterfront will be converted into civil courtrooms when the Parliament returns to the Red House later this year.
“These civil courts will allow the Hall of Justice to be used solely for criminal matters,” he said.
He said restoration work, being done by engineers from Cuba, on Mille Fleurs was also progressing well.
Whitehall, built in 1904 and called Rosenweg, is the second northernmost of the Magnificent Seven buildings and was a private house until it was purchased by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in 1954.
It was built by Joseph Leon Agostini, a cocoa planter.