Councillors to receive original parking meter contract

– Chase-Green says nothing to hide

The original contract for the controversial metered parking project undertaken by the City Council will be circulated among councillors, Mayor Patricia Chase-Green said yesterday, at the conclusion of an extraordinary statutory meeting.

“… As I said, we don’t have anything to hide. Let it go, let it go… I have nothing to hide. There is nothing corrupt in this deal so let it go, let them see it,” the mayor said, in a 180-degree turn from her earlier position that the contract could not be given to councillors.

It was APNU+AFC Councillor Oscar Clarke who requested that councillors be furnished with the original contract, since meaningful discussions and comparisons could not be made in the absence of that. Several councillors who spoke before Clarke had made it clear that it was impossible for them to offer any concrete input since they had not seen the original contract to make comparisons with the amendments.

Patricia Chase-Green

Prior to the rolling out of the metered parking project, councillors had been asking for the contract but it was never issued to them. Chase-Green had indicated that the contract was available in her office and that of the Town Clerk. After seven weeks of protest by citizens, following the implementation of the project, government suspended the project for three months pending a review.

Yesterday’s meeting was the first of several the council is expected to have to engage in meaningful discussion on the way forward before negotiating with Smart City Solutions (SCS), Chase-Green said.

Some of the issues raised by councillors included the clamping of vehicles, control of the city’s roads and establishing a new team of negotiators.

In an about-face, Clarke, in a lengthy presentation said while many believed that the parking meters were to generate revenue, the initial objective was to “bring order and discipline to the city of Georgetown.” Prior to yesterday, City Hall had said on several occasions that the project was needed to bolster the city’s revenue base.

Clarke referred to the project as “the cultural change,” adding that since it was something fresh and new, the council should have foreseen the challenges it would have faced. He opined that any new initiative introduced to society would always be greeted with opposition as it would take time for persons to become accustomed to it.

Oscar Clarke

He also argued that the project was turning spaces which never generated revenue into spaces generating revenue. “We have had it for free for a long time but now we are able to sell it… I don’t see anything wrong with that…,” he said.

Clarke also said that they should use the opportunity given to the council by Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan to engage in discussions during the negotiating process. He said he supported the recommendation put to the table by APNU+AFC Councillor Carlyle Goring for a new negotiating team.

But PPP/C Councillor Bishram Kuppen said the council should explore the possibility of starting afresh. He explained that all of the consultations and amendments appeared to be “patchwork” on the agreement.

Kuppen said that in the renegotiations council should consider looking at the arbitration clause, which states that arbitration would be held in the United States instead of Guyana where the contract was signed and the project was rolled out. He also pointed out that there was nothing such as a penalty for the concessionaire.

He suggested that the council utilizes the expertise around the horseshoe table and work to solve the issues. Fees and parking arrangements should also be addressed through renegotiations, Kuppen advised adding that the Guyana Police Force Traffic Department and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure should be included in future deliberations.

APNU+AFC Councillor Sophia Whyte also voiced concern over the fees and requested that clamping and impounding fees be reduced significantly.

‘Here to stay’
“The parking meters are here to stay,” APNU+AFC Councillor Junior Garrett expounded. One of the councillors who had visited Mexico to have a view of the operations, Garrett declared that discussions on metered parking in the city date back to 1966, with Sandbach Parker.

He stated that in the “few days” that the system was in operation, the benefits of the parking meters were seen as there was no traffic congestion, there was better security around the city, and order.

“The city can’t even pay its garbage contractors… We are not getting money,” he lamented.

According to Garrett, while some members of the public are of the view that a better percentage should have been paid to the city, investors need to safeguard their investment resulting in the beneficiary bending over backward to satisfy the investor’s needs.

He also expressed that the persons who are protesting are denying the council funds to improve the lives of citizens in different communities.

“I, however, do believe that we need to have some adjustments in the contract but not a revocation of the contract,” he concluded. APNU+AFC Councillor Ron Persaud, who was first to speak, said that while he supports the parking meters, he believes better terms of agreement should be negotiated. Addressing the issue from a business perspective, he pointed out that the price paid for the use of “prime real estate land” was unreasonable.

“We are taking $1,000 – $1,500 from vendors on the pavements but we are only getting $60 for our land…,” he said, apparently in reference to the spaces parking meters are occupying on the city’s pavements and reserves.

He believes new terms would demonstrate to the public that the council has their best interests at heart.

He, along with Kuppen and PPP/C Councillor Khame Prakash Sharma bemoaned the fact that they were asked to deliberate on the terms of the contract without having the original.

Councillor Monica Thomas of the APNU+AFC coalition said that although she was in support of the metered parking project, she was offended by the clamping of vehicles. She lamented that the action seemed to be a form of imprisonment and suggested that a ticketing system be used instead.

She also pointed out that she has seen the order the parking meter project brought to the city in the few days of its operation. She advocated that council goes out and listens to views of the people and have them involved in the decision-making process.

Lawlessness
APNU+AFC Councillor Heston Bostwick said he does not support lawlessness in the city and opined that the project should continue to unfold after the suspension period.

However, he said that after the renegotiation, the amendments should meet the demands of the disgruntled public. He pointed out that under the Municipal and District Council Act, provisions are made to allow the council to erect parking meters.

He said that for years, residents and business persons have operated in a lawless manner and believes it is time that the council restores order in the capital city.

Councillor Welton Clarke also from the APNU+AFC said the council should not allow the project to die because of the constant protest. He opined that if the project dies all other new revenue-generating initiatives proposed in the future would not be accepted by the public.

He said the implementation of anything new would not be accepted 100% by the public and called on the council to get out and “begin to sell the project to the members of the public and explain what the project is about.”

Deputy Mayor Lionel Jaikarran of the APNU+AFC, who was also scheduled to speak, had to leave before the meeting got underway owing to a family emergency.

Former Deputy Mayor, Sherod Duncan, also of the APNU+AFC, who has been very vocal on the metered parking agreement, was mute throughout the meeting.  “I’ve been in front of this issue for the last year. I think I’ve said all I needed to get it to where it is today and I have nothing more to add. My position is known,” Duncan told Stabroek News in an invited comment last night.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Chase-Green told councillors that at the next extraordinary meeting they should be able to go through the contract “clause by clause” and air their views.

City Hall and SCS signed the Georgetown Metered Parking Contract on May 13, 2016.

The contract, which allows the foreign-owned company to charge for parking in the city and institute penalties on those drivers who fail to pay, has been the subject of controversy since it started. Protest at the level of the council by Duncan and other councillors led to two reviews of the contract, by the Ministry of Finance and the Attorney General’s Office. They found that the contract was not in the best interest of the residents of Georgetown.

However, the project continued under the aegis of an amended contract signed on September 16, 2016.

This amended contract reduced the term of the project from 49 years to 20 years and reduced the fee to be paid from $125 for 15 minutes to $50 for 15 minutes. President David Granger had referred to the original price as “onerous”.

Once implemented on January 23, 2017 the project became the subject of a boycott and weekly protests by the Movement Against Parking Meters, which with large groups of supporters, has stood in front of City Hall for one hour a week, calling first for the reduction of the rates and then for the scrapping of the contract.