Private Sector flays City Hall over ‘unlawful’ container fees

–consultation committee to be set up with stakeholders

While the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has agreed that the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) needs to collect revenue, it has lambasted the council for doing so without consultation and in an unlawful manner.

The PSC made its position known yesterday in wake of Tuesday’s barricading of a number of city wharves to force payment of a contentious container fee.

Concerning the approach of the council with regard to making decisions on the administration of the municipality, particularly revenue collection, the PSC in a statement released yesterday said, “… The commission wishes to remind the council that the business sector and residents of the city are its means of revenue and that partnership and consultation [are] infinitely preferable to confrontation and unlawful behaviour in the name of revenue collection.”

In the statement, the PSC said that on being alerted to what can only be described as official harassment of members of the business community into paying the fee, “which according to legal advice obtained by the commission in unlawful,” it invited the Town Clerk to a meeting with its council and members of the Shipping Association.

Efforts to contact Town Clerk Royston King for a comment proved futile yesterday and this newspaper was told that he had accompanied Mayor Patricia Chase-Green to Chile.

On Tuesday, city officials erected barricades and prevented container-bearing trucks from leaving two city wharves- John Fernandes and Muneshwers on Water Street. The city administration later said that it was conducting road assessment tests, although it was also demanding that every truck exiting the wharves carrying a container pay a $25,000 road fee.

The following day, the Shipping Association of Guyana (SAG) moved to the High Court challenging the council’s move to charge a fee of $25,000 per container parked in Georgetown and for the traversing of vehicles carrying containers.

In his affidavit in support of the motion for Orders Nisi to be issued against the Town Clerk, quashing both fees, SAG’s Secretary Ian D’Anjou deposed that he was informed by Alan Fernandes, a Director of John Fernandes Limited that on July 19 at around 3 pm, a delegation from the city headed by Assistant Town Clerk Sherry Jerrick descended on the junction of Water and Robb streets which leads directly out of the gates of John Fernandes. Upon the directions of Jerrick, the affidavit said, several persons erected barricades across Robb Street, preventing vehicles from crossing and/or turning into Water Street. Thereafter, the affidavit said, under Jerrick’s direction, a person drove a motor car and blocked the barricades.

However, following the PSC meeting with the Town Clerk, at which SAG representatives were present, it instructed its attorneys to withdraw the court action.

When contacted on the reason behind the withdrawal, Chairman of the SAG Desmond Sears said it was based on the discussion with the Town Clerk on Wednesday.

He said the injunction was filed more in the favour of the wharves’ operators to stop City Hall from erecting barricades, but based on the explanation given by King that the exercise was part of road assessment works, they have decided not to go ahead with the court action.

Meanwhile, he explained that at the meeting it was agreed that a committee would be set up comprising members of the SAG, the Mayor and City Council, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Guyana Manufacturers Association and others, with the aim of ironing out the issue revolving around the fees.

This new committee, he said, will be installed soon and its members are also expected to meet with the City Treasurer.

He added that the act of the council was an arbitrary one without any consultations and the committee would hold consultations once set up and they have also agreed to have further consultations to arrive at a fee and a rate to be paid.

Stabroek News was also told that there is a hold off on the payment of the fees for containers until such time.

Meanwhile, the PSC release said that only last month the commission had reason to express the sector’s concern over the controversy which has arisen over the M&CC’s attempt to impose a contract to install parking meters without due transparency and public consultation.

The statement added that at the meeting on Wednesday with the Town Clerk and members of the Shipping Association, talks were frank and informative. The PSC is looking forward to further discussions on the matter.

Last week, the city was forced to withdraw a case in the magistrate’s court against a company over the $25,000 container fee as the charge was deemed to be bad in law.

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