Public rage

Public rage in Georgetown continues to grow and expand as last Thursday’s massive demonstration shows, even as the government has finally been forced to intervene in the parking meter fiasco. But it is too little too late. Boat gone a’ fall. The demand is now for the rescinding of the flawed agreement between the city council and SCS.

The government faltered when it allowed the city council to proceed with the parking meter secret project, with charges that were outrageously high ‒ 37 per cent of the average monthly salary in Guyana as compared with a high of 13 per cent of the monthly salary in the US. After the meeting between the government and the city council, the government did not call for the release of the secret agreement. That is a telling omission.

The excuse by the government that it did not want to intervene in city council business is just plain balls. How come APNU+AFC members voted to a man and woman, with the honourable exception of Sherod Duncan and a few others, to support the secret agreement with such obviously burdensome charges? The government might have taken a hands-off position, but political clearance at a high level had to have been given.

The courageous citizens who have taken up this issue on our behalf, acting under the banner of Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM), must be congratulated. I am sure that most of the two thousand or so people (five thousand next Thursday?) present at the picket outside City Hall on Thursday last have never been on a picket line. The large numbers, wide range of classes (since class composition has become an issue with both the PPP’s Rohee and APNU’s Chase-Green), broad political opinion and the colourful ethnic mix, suggest wide popular support for MAPM and its demands.

Everyone on the picket line is opposed to the now tainted secret agreement. Everyone on the picket line is supporting MAPM in principle and accepts its leadership, including me. MAPM is opposed to the “parking meter project in its current form,” but not to paying a fee for parking as set out in its pamphlet referred to below. So am I. Half the current charges are still unaffordable.

In a pamphlet distributed at the event, MAPM says that it “is a group of citizens from diverse backgrounds with no political affiliation united against the parking meter project in its current form.” Its objectives are to secure a rescinding of the agreement between the city council and SCS, a transparent process of a feasibility study, a social impact assessment, a cost benefit analysis and adherence to tendering procedures, all of which should involve stakeholders. The city must undertake to award a new contract that provides for a reduced parking fee that is affordable to all taking into consideration Guyana’s income brackets, special exemptions for certain categories of persons, specifically residents, businesses, employees and others. In answer to the city council’s argument that the parking meters introduce modernization, MAPM declares its support for modernization, parking meters, structured parking and progress in every form but argues that secret agreements, lack of transparency and no consultations are not modernization.

Quoting the review by the Ministry of Finance of July 23, MAPM points out that the conclusion was that the price was outlandish, no feasibility study was done, the deal is of an exploitative nature, the contract will have an indirect impact on business growth, government procurement requirements may have been violated, the fees appear to be arbitrary and no damages are highlighted against the contractor for violations. This is the government’s conclusion but it inexplicably stayed silent in the face of an arrogantly unresponsive city council.

I believe that the imminent reduction in the parking fee after the discussions between the city council and the government is no longer a feasible proposition. SCS and the city council are invested too heavily to give a reduction to a sum that will be affordable. In any event, stakeholders, if consulted, cannot in good conscience engage with the city council on an agreement that they have not seen. They must demand its publication. Public opinion must make the city council understand that this is 2017, not 1817.

MAPM will need to keep its powder dry. Dislodging an implacable city council from this noxious, secret, deal, which was conceived with stealth, prepared and signed in secret and unleashed on an unsuspecting public through the back door, will be a monumental task. It must plan for the next level – peaceful, silent, civil resistance. Just Park. Don’t Pay!

After all Guyana has gone through, we are now faced in this day and age with a secret deal, signed with secretive foreigners, whose CVs where published are of the basic basics, whose company or companies have little or no track record, whose history and antecedents the Guyanese people are unaware of, who are not visible. Mayor Chase-Green has given the green light to install green machines to take out greenbacks, of roughly US$6,000,000 (Guyana $1.2 billion) annually, leaving behind nothing of value, only empty streets, a damaged city economy, people out of jobs and a bitter taste.  This is eye pass and can happen nowhere else.

 

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