Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan yesterday ordered the suspension of the by-laws for the city’s controversial metered parking system for 90 days as government effectively took the decision out of the hands of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) on bringing the project to a halt.
The announcement was made by acting Mayor Sherod Duncan, who in a post on his Facebook page last evening said that the order, made by Bulkan under the Municipal and District Councils Act, would be gazetted shortly.
The order, titled the Georgetown Metered Parking (Suspension) Order 2017, states, “It is declared that the Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown are in default of their functions with respect to the Georgetown Metered Parking By-Laws and I hereby direct the Mayor and Councillors to suspend the Georgetown Metered Parking By-Laws for three months commencing on the 17th March, 2017.”
Duncan, in his post, referred to his powers as acting Mayor and announced that an Extraordinary Statutory Meeting will be convened soon to “allow for full deliberation and a decision by the Council.”
On Tuesday, Cabinet decided to recommend that the project be suspended, pending the review of the contract and to accommodate alterations in the interests of the citizenry. No official notice was given to City Hall and Town Clerk Royston King wrote to Bulkan on Thursday seeking clarification on the government’s decision. Among his concerns were that there were no provisions in the contract to facilitate a suspension and that it would come at a cost to the city which it could not afford to bear.
Duncan’s post alluded to Cabinet’s decision and suggested that the city’s administration nonetheless remained “intransigent.”
“I believe that in all instances our Government has exercised strategic patience, holding to the view that Central Govern-ment should sparingly insert itself into Local Government matters but instead allow the full measure of the democratic process to be engaged whether in rigorous debates at the level of Council or a robust democratic engagement through lawful protests,” he added.
What needs to be done
In his letter to Bulkan seeking clarity on Thurs-day, King had warned that the suspension of the city’s metered parking system would amount to a breach of contract, for which the municipality would have to compensate the contractor, Smart City Solutions (SCS).
But Minister of State Joseph Harmon, during a post-Cabinet briefing yesterday, argued that a provision exists within the metered parking contract that allows for its suspension if circumstances beyond the control of the parties arise. “Of course there are two options. One is suspension and of course the other revocation and if the intervention of a party under what might be termed force majeure exists then certainly the parties to the contract can understand what needs to be done and the contract spells out itself in clear terms what force majeure is and what needs to be done,” Harmon stated.
“Force majeure,” according to a definition from ‘Contract Standards,’ is “a contract provision that allows a party to suspend or terminate the performance of its obligations when certain circumstances beyond their control arise, making performance inadvisable, commercially impracticable, illegal, or impossible.”
Harmon added that Cabinet had concluded that the contract should be suspended for 90 days to address issues such as the cost of parking, the financial arrangements of the project, stakeholder involvement, provision for parking for police, army, fire service vehicles and ambulances and the jurisdiction in which marking meter installations were allowed.
Duncan made reference to Harmon’s comment during a protest yesterday and noted that the contract made clear provisions for suspension, should unforeseen hurdles arise, such as an intervention from central government. “…It states that plainly, an intervention of government and all of that can halt the contract. So, I don’t see why the Town Clerk has written to Minister Bulkan asking for clarification because it’s as clear as day to me and in my capacity as the acting Mayor, with all the power vested in me by Chapter 28:01, I am saying we should suspend the contract…,” Duncan said, while referring to the Town Clerk’s request for clarity from Bulkan as “stalling.” “The Minister of Communities appoints the Town Clerk and if the Minister of Communities has conveyed Cabinet’s decision to the Town Clerk and the Town Clerk is refusing to carry out those directives, well then the Minister of Communities has to act,” he added.
For weeks, supporters of the Movement Against Parking Meters pressure group have been stating that government had the power to have the contract suspended by rescinding the by-laws. In fact, court action filed against the city by Senior Counsel Ashton Chase in association with attorney Pauline Chase, on behalf of the New Building Society, challenges the legitimacy of the process through which the by-laws were signed into law.