The Georgetown City Council yesterday deferred a decision on the future of the metered parking project and instead voted to make the final report by its negotiating committee available to the public to guide the way forward.
Mayor Patricia Chase-Green also announced at an extraordinary statutory council meeting yesterday that the suspension of the project would continue for another month to facilitate further consultations on the project.
The temporary halt of the project was facilitated by the central government’s suspension of the bylaws and this fact prompted PPP/C Councillor Bisham Kuppen to question whether the government had extended the suspension.
“If I, as Chair of this committee who is dealing with the parking meter and I think the councillors need more time… nobody is going to push my button to do anything in a haste! Nobody!” Chase-Green declared.
The negotiating committee’s report recommends five options for the council, including continuing with the project with concessionaire Smart City Solutions (SCS), albeit with a renegotiated contract, or alternatively discontinuing the project by rescinding the contract and leaving the city without metered parking. Another option is for the council to request a further suspension of the implementation of the metered parking project, pending the outcome of several ongoing court challenges, after which it may use the court ruling as a legal guide to inform any further action.
After presenting a summary of the committee’s report at the meeting, Team Legacy Councillor Malcolm Ferreira, who served as chairman, emphasised that councillors must be “wise and brave” when making their decision.
However, APNU Councillor Monica Thomas, in a brief remarks, said, “This is a thick document and to be honest I would have appreciated it if the councillors would have been given more time to go through this document in it its entirety. I feel I would have been well informed to make a decision then… I can’t just skim through it and be ready to discuss.”
Thomas was the only councillor who asked that they be given more time to go through the document. She was not challenged although APNU councillors Akeem Peters, Alfred Mentore and Roopnarine Persaud, as well as PPP/C councillors Kuppen and Khame Sharma were prepared to engage in discussions on the report.
Chase-Green, in an address after Ferreira, said that copies of the report, which she referred to as a “public document,” should be made available to the public. She recommended that the document be placed at the Town Clerk’s Office, the Treasurer’s Office and at the National Library. “I am asking that this document be placed in public places and be shared with anyone… I want councillors and a majority of citizens in Georgetown to say, ‘Yes, I am duly informed of every step the council has taken, there is no secrecy to this project…’ so then we can sit and make a conscious decision on how to move forward…,” she emphasised.
Fourteen of the 18 councillors who were present voted for the debate on the future of the metered parking project to be deferred and for the report to be available in public spaces across the city, while PPP/C councillors Kuppen and Sharma voted against and APNU councillors Peters and Mentore abstained.
Notably absent from the meeting were vocal critic of the project Sherod Duncan, of the AFC, as well as APNU councillors Oscar Clarke, Phillip Smith and Andrea Marks.
Chase-Green said that a date would be set at the next statutory meeting for discussions on the project.
Meanwhile, the report would be available for scrutiny until next Friday and persons can make further submissions, which would be considered at the next meeting.
The council’s decision stunned members of the civil society pressure group, the Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM), who sat in the public gallery and listened to the presentation. “This report is absolutely final. There are no other things that can be added in here. There are no other documents that can be now submitted. This is final. You had four months, that’s done,” said MAPM spokesman Don Singh.
MAPM had led weeks of demonstrations against the project prior to its suspension.
Komal Ramnauth, another vocal MAPM member, also emphasised the group’s call for complete revocation of the contract, while suggesting that Chase-Green used the meeting to push her own agenda. “The Mayor went ahead and took a vote on it, she didn’t ask any other councillors their opinion,” he said, while suggesting that “the Mayor used that to propel what she wanted to achieve, which is a delay on this final decision.”
He too questioned what more the committee could do after submitting its final report.
However, during the meeting, the mayor noted that the committee had not been dissolved as yet. She also said its members would be paid their stipends as promised by the council. She was responding to Councillor Persaud, who asked when councillors who served on the committee would be paid the stipend.
Following the suspension of the metered parking bylaws in March, the seven-member committee, led by Ferreira, had been mandated to review the contract, consult with all stakeholders and recommend possible solutions to any impasse that may arise from the implementation of the project.
The committee’s report said if the council proceeds with the implementation of the project with SCS, it must set up a committee to renegotiate on its behalf. As part of a renegotiation, it says SCS must provide all documents requested, “including those of a financial nature (this is the only way to know the true Initial Capital Expenditure, that is necessary to protect and ensure that the citizens and the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown are getting the best deal) as a means of fostering transparency and accountability.”
Ferreira said when SCS was approached for documents on its financials, it was unwilling to provide the committee with any documents and was only ready to present information if the committee members were ready to sign a non-disclosure form. Ferreira said they refused and the documents were never presented.
A true reflection of SCS’ investment in the project, which has been called into question by the committee’s accountant, would be needed if the council were to consider revoking the contract since it would then be liable to reimburse the company for its investment.
Ferreira, during his presentation yesterday, said that the committee went out in the streets and conducted a series of consultations after its scheduled consultations at City Hall were poorly attended.
He noted that the legality of the contract, including its duration, the transparency of the process, the lack of due diligence, tax concessions, the monopoly on parking in the city and locations of meters were issues of concern that were highlighted by members of the public.