Although offering government’s support to the city council’s new negotiating team, which is tasked with finalising a revised metered parking contract, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan yesterday emphasised that council members have to take ownership of the deal which they entered into “with their eyes wide open.”
Bulkan met with the newly identified team yesterday and indicated that Cabinet would like to see a metered parking project in the city with rates that are not onerous, terms that are more equal as well as paid parking which is not in the vicinity of schools or hospitals.
In short, the council is being asked to negotiate a contract which appropriately addresses the recommendations made in the two central government reviews that were completed last August.
The parking meters project has met with fierce opposition from the public and there was a major, months-long boycott of the meters combined with weekly protests by the group, Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM). The group wants the project scrapped and has vowed to continue its campaign against it.
While Bulkan has told the team that the Attorney General’s Chambers is available for them to consult with, he stopped short of offering government support if the negotiation process implodes, leading to financial and legal consequences for the council. “This baby belongs to the council…is y’all child,” he stressed, while noting that the council has a “free hand” to renegotiate and determined the nature of the initiative they wished to be associated with.
He also urged the team to remember that the project is first and foremost a revenue generating one and they should, therefore, seek to negotiate from that stand point and ensure that in giving up their monopoly on city spaces, they are getting the right value.
The contract presently grants City Hall 20% of the gross earnings from the project, which saw the council earning $667,000 over the period January 23-February 28, 2017.
The controversial metered parking project is currently suspended, following the wave of protests and calls for its revocation. Central government has suspended the bylaws which empower the project for 90 days and recommended that the time be used to review the agreement. The suspension order was signed on March 21, 2017.
The seven-member negotiating team, led by Malcolm Ferreira, includes Noelle Chow-Chee, Roopnarine Persaud, Ivelaw Henry, Tricia Richards, Carlyle Goring and Heston Bostwick. They have been given the task of negotiating terms which would be more acceptable for a wide cross section of the population.
Yesterday, they sought to establish clearly what one of these stakeholders, central government, wished to see at the end of the negotiations.
Bulkan, in responding to the query, first stated that the composition of the team suggests that their results are more likely to be accepted by the public. “This composition is new, which suggests council’s willingness to adopt a fresh approach. This team has a much wider makeup of the council, including a councillor from a minority party. The inclusion of a minority member might suggest that what is produced is more likely to be accepted by the public,” he told the team.
Bulkan noted that one of the impediments of the first contract was the lack of buy in from the entire council and he hoped that the use of full internal democracy will lead to full confidence of the council for the new contract.
He also hoped that the council will have a “pride of ownership” for the new contract and stressed that an insufficient number of councilors were previously convinced that they could defend the initial contract.
Asked if government was prepared to offer an extension for the renegotiation period, since the team was not constituted until one month into the three-month period, Bulkan said yes. It was not made clear if the project would remain suspended throughout the period of this extension.
Stabroek News spoke with Ferreira after the meeting to ascertain the process which the team intends to use for renegotiation and was told that a press release would be issued soon with the information. He, however, noted that an initial meeting with the concessionaire was held earlier in the day.
The original contract, which was signed on May 13, 2016 was negotiated by Mayor Patricia Chase-Green, Town Clerk Royston King, Chair of the Finance Committee Oscar Clark and Finance Committee member Junior Garrett. While these individuals maintain that the terms were finalised with the help of a team of local lawyers, many including the ministries of Finance and Legal Affairs have not been impressed by the contract.
In its review, the Finance Ministry described the deal in some areas as exploitive and labelled the city’s outlook on aspects of the deal as “ignorant.”
It stated in its general observations that “Government procurement practices may have been violated, in that a tender was not advertised and bids reviewed for acceptance based on certain criteria and as such [it] justifies a revoking of the contract by Government and the re-tendering.”
The city administration was also criticised for failing to undertake a financial analysis and feasibility study to determine, in part, whether the projection for revenue and cost from the industry are fair to itself.
Consequently, the Finance Ministry had advised that the council either undertake a study of putting metered parking, parking facilities and towing and recovery system within the city on its own accord or re-tender for bidding for the six zones within Georgetown separately, so as to allow for greater competition. Barring these two possibilities, the city has been advised to “re-assess the financing arrangement of the contract.”
The Legal Affairs Ministry’s review, which was not as detailed, nevertheless noted that the contract was of such “unequal bargaining strength” that it included a clause intended to scare the Mayor and City Council at the prospect of terminating the agreement. It recommended that the council employ an accountant to “advise” as it revisited the terms and conditions of the controversial agreement.