Get a good lawyer

On June 19, 2016, the Sunday Stabroek editorialised as follows on the deal to establish paid parking here.

“Given the lack of public consultation on the proposed meters; the absence of debate on the pros and cons; the failure to lay all matters connected with the project before the city council; the apparent lack of research on options regarding who should be contracted to implement the project; the seeming insubstantiality of the company which was selected; and the clandestine nature of the contract with that company, the only sensible thing at this stage is for the whole parking meter programme to be suspended, if not aborted altogether.”

This was followed by an August 8, 2016 Stabroek News editorial which said as follows:

“So much has been found to be wrong with the secret contract signed between the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) and Smart City Solutions (SCS) for parking meters over a 49-year period that it is amazing that it hasn’t been cancelled as yet.

“Former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran has already made the point that the city is in breach of its own procurement rules. In his accountability column in Stabroek News he recently noted that in accordance with Section 231 of the Municipal and District Councils’ Act, before entering into any contract for the execution of any work or the supply of any goods to the value of $250,000, or more, a council is required to give notice of such proposed contract and `shall by such notice invite any person willing to undertake the same to submit a sealed tender thereof to the council…’

“This was not done and on this ground alone the contract should be revoked as it places the city at the centre of an unlawful procurement act which will damage its credibility and leave serious questions about its commitment to transparency and probity. It also puts the city council, elected at historic polls long after the contract had been signed, at a great disadvantage.”

Much water has flowed under the bridge since last year and matters have now come to a head with the Ministry of Communities ordering the suspension of the by-laws that undergird metered parking. Once this order is gazetted it would mean that the project cannot operate. There is no need to regurgitate all that has transpired save and except to stay that the city’s arrangements for metered parking were shadowy from the beginning and did not meet the standard for good governance. Those who championed metered parking were from the old discredited city council so it was not unexpected that they would produce a deal of this sort.

The government’s delinquent approach on this matter was an eye-opener. Notwithstanding the fact that central government was not expected to unduly interfere in municipal issues following the historic local government elections, there are definitely cases where developments pertaining to the municipality spill over into the larger community and metered parking was one such. After commissioning two studies of the contract, ‘terror’ clause included, by the Ministries of Finance and Legal Affairs which could have clearly been used to the begin the process of nullification, the government abdicated its responsibility. It let the project move ahead, with one of its senior officials going as far as to say there was nothing wrong with the contract, a position that the government may yet rue.

It appeared that the government’s calculus was that the meters would bring in real money for the city, its major constituency and burnish its credentials with the people. That has now backfired like a boomerang on steroids in the face of the wide-scale boycott of metered parking by Georgetown residents who know they can’t afford these tariffs and concerted and varied protests by the Movement Against Parking Meters.

After an interminably long wait for supposed consultations, the government has now acted in the face of the ongoing opposition to the meters. The suspension of the by-laws by the Minister of Communities and the request to the City Hall for the project to be suspended for three months will likely trigger a legal crisis between SCS and the city.

To date, it remains unknown what legal counsel city officials had when they so mindlessly agreed to a 49-year duration of the contract renewable for 49 years and a rate of $500 for 15 minutes of parking. It is a question that the city council, particularly its Mayor must answer.

In the meanwhile, it is recommended that the city contracts a reputable lawyer for the litigation that may lie ahead as the financial penalties that can be applicable are exceedingly high.

The brand of governance practised by Mayor Chase-Green since being elected does not cohere with modern principles of openness, probity and financial prudence.

 

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