Parking meters and secrecy

The discussions which will be held today when the Report of the Metered Parking Negotiation Committee is formally presented to the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) are bound to be interesting, to put it mildly. And if the proponents of metered parking in Georgetown who sit on the council hold true to form ‒ as it is expected that they will ‒ opponents who are unfortunately in the minority among that group are likely to be losers in the debate. However, city residents can take heart in the fact that in the final analysis, the issue may well have to be decided by the courts.

What has emerged from the exercise conducted by the city-appointed committee led by Councillor Malcolm Ferreira is that residents were right to be suspicious of the parking meter contract. Georgetowners, all Guyanese in fact, may well owe a debt of gratitude to the Movement Against Parking Meters for its dogged opposition to the implementation of the contract and its constancy in protesting, which forced a stay and allowed for an investigation of sorts by Mr Ferreira and others.

Though the full contents of the report are not yet publicly available, what has been revealed so far suggests that Mr Ferreira and the other members of the ill-named committee acquitted themselves well. It would be more than fair to say that they performed far better than the original team who supposedly negotiated the contract that sought to bind city residents and Guyanese to terms and conditions that greatly benefited the parking meter company, Smart City Solutions (SCS), originally for a period of 49 years, that was later reduced to 20 years and was subject to renewal. Given how biased the original contract was in favour of the vendor, one has to wonder what the negotiations entailed and why Mayor Patricia Chase-Green and Town Clerk Royston King, who must have been just bowled over by fancy words from SCS, and simply signed on the dotted line, assumed that the rest of us would be led like sheep.

From periodic articles carried by this newspaper, it must now be common knowledge that the investigation carried out by the committee was far from easy or straightforward. Perhaps weary of the entire issue, the public’s response to calls for consultations was disappointing. Nevertheless, the committee pressed on, taking its meetings to the public and doing house to house consultations. It was disappointing that key players in the government did not respond to requests for meetings. But what was worse was the refusal by SCS to submit financial and other documents which would have allowed the committee to have a true picture of the investment. The committee did state nevertheless that SCS had “vastly inflated estimates of its capital investment”.

That SCS could refuse to furnish relevant material to an M&CC-appointed committee smacked of disrespect. There was, therefore, no way of verifying whether in fact the claims made by SCS and some at City Hall that the company had invested millions of dollars in the parking meter project were true. The committee also did not have access to SCS’s feasibility study and business proposal because its members refused to sign a confidentiality agreement.

SCS’s stonewalling has to be viewed with some amount of incredulity. It is absolutely preposterous that a contract signed with a public entity like the M&CC is not a full disclosure contract. This cannot be a secretive arrangement. While SCS is a private business, the city belongs to the citizens of Guyana. The elected officials running it work for the citizens and therefore must be in a position to report to them on all aspects of every business transaction involving Georgetown.

Mayor Chase-Green had already tried this on before when she had placed the original parking meter contract under wraps, claiming that she was protecting it from being “stolen” from the M&CC. After coming under significant flack for her words and actions, she and Mr King were forced to make the contract available to all members of the council. It is now obvious though that not all of the information regarding the contract was revealed.

The question that must be asked and answered today is whether Ms Chase-Green, Mr King and Councillors Oscar Clarke and Junior Garrett, who were in the forefront of the parking meter system promotion were privy to the information SCS wants to keep a lid on. Did they sign confidentiality contracts? Or were they just never given the financial and other information?

Far from being resolved by the sitting of the Ferreira-led committee, the parking meter fiasco has now entered the realm of the absurd. Just what is SCS hiding and why is it being hidden? And how much do Ms Chase-Green and Messrs King, Garrett and Clarke know? City residents and stakeholders need answers.

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