Convinced that the courts will find the metered parking contract to be illegal, the Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) is calling on the Georgetown City Council to bite the bullet and rescind the contract with Smart City Solutions (SCS).
In an invited comment, Don Singh, speaking on behalf of the group, noted that it is pleasantly surprised by the contents of the report that has been submitted by the Metered Parking Negotiation Committee.
The committee, led by Team Legacy Councillor Malcolm Ferreira, submitted to council a 25-page final report that recommends five options, including continuing with the project with SCS, albeit with a renegotiated contract, or alternatively discontinuing the project by rescinding the contract and leaving the city without metered parking.
These recommendations were made in light of findings about the impact the project has and could possibly have on citizens and the city. Additionally, during its three months of investigations, the committee noted that concessionaire SCS had vastly inflated estimates of its capital investment. Repeated requests for this data and other financial documents, such as a feasibility study, were refused by SCS, leading to the committee discontinuing discussions.
According Singh, MAPM is “quite happy that the report is fair and unprejudiced [and] would like to say job well done to Ferreira and his team.” The group, however, is distressed that SCS continues to operate with an air of secrecy.
“We would like to ask the powers that be that a follow up inquiry be done as to the tax concessions granted as well as the overstating of assets as contained in the report,” Singh said.
Speaking directly about the contents of the report, Singh noted that for MAPM the only choice of the recommendations remains that the contract be rescinded.
“We have maintained from the very beginning that the contract was illegal and against the laws of Guyana, whether because it allows a monopoly or because it was signed without adhering to tender procedures. We are certain the courts will vindicate these positions,” he explained.
Reminded that one of the five options presented is for council to request a further suspension of the implementation of the metered parking system, pending the outcome of the court proceedings after which it may use the court ruling as a legal guide to inform any further action, Singh said there is no reason to wait. “We are 100% sure that the courts will find it [the contract] illegal. We think the city and its citizens need to move on from this aberration and find solutions through engagement with ratepayers,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, former Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan, one of the first persons to raise objections to the metered parking project responded to the committee’s report with just one sentence on his personal Facebook page. “This contract has bad news written all over it, SCRAP!” he wrote.
Duncan later explained to Stabroek News that from his examination of the report, which he described as “cursory,” the committee’s examination of the issue seems to be thorough. “I commend the committee for their efforts. It is regretful, however, that they could not be supplied with all the critical information they required of SCS. It is this lack of information and all the other issues surrounding this deal that compelled us not to support it initially, and this position remains unchanged in the interest of giving the citizens we are elected to represent the best options in these arrangements,” he explained.
This newspaper also sought to get a comment from head of the Private Sector Commission Eddie Boyer but calls to his cellphone went to voicemail.
The report is to be presented to the council at an Extraordinary Statutory Meeting on Thursday for discussions.
Following the government’s suspension of the metered parking bylaws, the seven-member committee, led by Ferreira, was mandated to review the contract, consult with all stakeholders and recommend possible solutions to any impasse that may arise from the implementation of the metered parking project.
The team was specifically tasked with addressing five areas of concern identified by Central Government. These included the unequal terms of the contract, which disproportionately favours the concessionaire; the fees, which are too burdensome; the too high penalties for non-compliance; and the exclusion of gazetted public roads and certain areas around schools and hospitals.
After two months of stakeholder engagements, the committee submitted its report to Mayor Patricia Chase-Green and Town Clerk Royston King on August 2.
Though it was expected that the committee would have engaged in negotiations and other discussions with SCS, the report notes that these discussions never occurred because SCS refused to provide several financial documents.
The report specifically says that though SCS was asked to provide proof of its stated millions in investments, it refused to do so. The company also refused to share with the committee its feasibility study and business proposal unless its members agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement.
During a meeting with SCS, a query into the actual investments made saw Director of Business Development Amir Oren noting that “costs are his and that this is not something he is doing for the first time.”
However, the report says “given the public nature of the parking meter fiasco the committee found it necessary to reject the idea of signing a non-disclosure agreement or to be bound by secrecy.”
While SCS refused to provide documentation, the report says consultations with an independent accountant raised several red flags about the veracity of several of SCS’ claims and meetings with representatives of the Ministry of Finance suggested that the city failed to perform due diligence.