PPP/C councillors seeking probe of parking meters contract by procurement body

PPP/C members on the city council have written to the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) calling for an investigation of the controversial parking meters contract.

It is the latest in a series of investigations that have been referred to the PPC of actions associated with the APNU+AFC government.

In a letter released yesterday by the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, councillors Bishram Kuppen and Khame Sharma are asking the PPC to probe if the national interest was safeguarded when the contract for metered parking was signed and if the officers and personnel who signed the contract acted in accordance with the rules and regulations as it relates to procurement of a contract of this type and cost.

PPP/C’s Khame Sharma

The two councillors also want the commission to address the issue of the processes employed to “definitively conclude” if in the execution of the agreement it was done in a fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective manner.

In their letter to the PPC Chairman Carol Corbin, they also want a ruling on the sole sourcing of the contract to Smart City Solutions Inc (SCS).

Further, the councillors want to know if the Ministry of Communities acting on behalf of the Cabinet was complicit in the execution of the contract by signing and gazetting the By-Laws thereby operationalizing paid metered parking in the City of Georgetown.

The Mayor and City Council recently voted by less than a majority to continue negotiations with SCS over the parking meters. This decision has been widely criticised.

The parking project was placed on hold on March 17 this year after hundreds of meters had been installed in the city in 2016.

These meters were boycotted by car owners and served as a lightning rod for weekly protests over the deal. These protests put both the city and the government under pressure. To date it is unclear whether SCS is interested in resuming negotiations or if it will seek arbitration over its contract. The contract also has punitive clauses in the event of a termination.

Bishram Kuppen

Kuppen and Sharma traced the events leading up to the contract and said that at a statutory meeting on May 9, 2016, Mayor Patricia Chase-Green stated that Council would conclude the signing of a contract for a parking meter system on May 13, 2016. At the next Statutory meeting on May 23, 2016 during the confirmation of the Minutes of the meeting held on May 9, 2016, the letter to the PPC said that Kuppen questioned Mayor Chase-Green about the signing of said parking meter contract and lamented that the new Council had not yet been briefed nor provided with any details or copies of the parking meter contract.

“After many subsequent requests and agitation by some Councillors to examine the parking meter contract, the Mayor advised Councillors that the contract will not be made public but that it could be viewed in her office or the Town Clerk’s office on the condition that no copies can be made of said contract. Councillor Bishram Kuppen requested to examine the contract and did so on September 2, 2016 and discovered the burdensome nature of the contract, the unequal terms and the exorbitant pricing scheme which he exposed at statutory meetings, public forums and in newspaper articles,” the letter said.

After recurring protests and other forms of resistance, the letter said that limited information was released by the Council as it relates to this matter and it was then learnt that the contract had been sole- sourced for an initial contract period of 49 years, renewable for another 49 years.

Further, the letter said that there is no evidence that the contract was ever publicly tendered as required by Part VII, Section 231 of the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01 and also in accordance with national procurement laws.

The duo added  that no evidence was adduced that this contract was approved by the current elected Council or the previous elected Council.

They noted that the contract was subsequently amended as it relates to its lifespan and cost for parking but the original contract was not produced during the amendment process for councillors to examine and to use as a basis for the amendments which were made.

Kuppen and Sharma added that as a result of the opposition to the deal, separate reports were done by the Finance Ministry and the Attorney General’s Chambers on the deal which raised even more issues.

On March 17, 2017, they noted that Central Government intervened and suspended the metered parking system for the city to decide on a way forward after more consultations with citizens.

It was following the suspension that the city council recently voted to continue negotiations with SCS.

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