In an act of singular perversity the City Council held a special meeting on Wednesday to approve the amended by-laws for parking meters. It was, as we reported the following day, the only topic on the agenda, and it was passed by a majority of 13 to two. There were two abstentions. In circumstances where the AFC element in the coalition failed to get a motion for secret balloting passed during the last statutory meeting, some Councillors decided to go missing in action. So out of twenty-eight Councillors in total, nine simply absented themselves instead, presumably, of voting openly against the motion. Taken together with the two PPP Councillors who voted against, and the two who abstained, the result was hardly a ringing endorsement of the latest version of the by-laws. It should be added that the Mayor did not allow Councillors longer than three minutes to give their views, so it was hardly a ringing endorsement of local democracy either.
The real problem is, of course, not the by-laws in and of themselves, but the fact that they apply to a project which has still has not found endorsement in the courts as yet. This was something which Team Legacy Councillor Malcolm Ferreira pointed out to the council on Wednesday, urging them to wait until the court had ruled. As it is, there are two cases before the courts at present, one of which has not been decided. The second was a challenge to previous by-laws brought by the New Building Society, which the latter won. That setback, however, gave City Hall absolutely no pause for thought, since it absurdly decided to appeal the decision.
So now we’re in the ludicrous position of approving by-laws when we don’t even know if the contract for parking meters to which they apply will be deemed legal by the courts. What kind of council is this? Who are these people who are supposed to be taking intelligent, rational and common sense decisions on our behalf?
The excuse given by one Councillor for pursuing this matter with such strange vigour is that the council might be sued by Smart City Solutions, the contractor. One can only suggest that the municipality expand its panel of lawyers so it can be the beneficiary of far more sophisticated legal opinions on likely outcomes – the populace has already heard some of these from lawyers associated with the popular protest ‒ before it proceeds further.
After more than twenty years without local government elections, those run off in 2017 were a breath of fresh air, and great expectations were held of them. However, new structures and procedures notwithstanding, in many cases they were still contaminated by our infernal political-ethnic divide. What happened, therefore, was that voters chose parties and persons they knew, not those who might have been gifted with a little competence. Georgetown, of course, was particularly badly treated under the PPP/C, and the consequence was that the southern wards were more concerned about voting them out, than looking at the CVs of those who had potential as councillors.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon found himself facing the press on the day following the meeting on the matter of whether central government would intervene given the circumstances. It had, of course, intervened on two occasions prior to this, on the first occasion to review the contract with Smart City Solutions. The Ministry of Finance heavily criticized the contract, and while the Attorney General Chambers followed suit, albeit a little less robustly, it did not recommend that it be declared invalid.
If the AG’s Chambers showed itself on the timorous side, the city population showed itself a great deal less so. Regular protests in Regent Street against the parking meter contract of a kind not seen in the capital for many moons, eventually persuaded the Ministry of Communities with Cabinet backing, to act and suspend the by-laws while various issues were addressed.
As far as Mr Harmon and government is concerned, the City Council is independent, and we quoted him as saying that the central administration only intervenes “when the city requests it or if actions are taken which affect in a serious way the safety and security of the citizens.” He also told the media: “These decisions that are being made are well within the remit of the City Council and, therefore, unless an approach is made to central government, we will prefer to allow the City Council to do its work” The beleaguered citizens, it seems, can only give their opinion as to whether “the city fathers and mothers are doing a good job” at election time.
He is of course being a bit disingenuous, since the PNC – not even APNU and certainly not the AFC – is in control in Georgetown, and can instruct its Councillors how to vote, and who, for example, the party wants as mayor. It is not an unreasonable hypothesis, therefore, that for some reason the party is not opposed to the parking meter contract, which is why it is not prepared to interfere in the City Council’s business, either directly or indirectly.
As for citizens being restricted to elections to give expression to their opinions, if that is what Minister Harmon seriously believes, then those who live and work in Georgetown might be about to enlighten him if those clustered around the horseshoe table decide to bludgeon their way through opposing arguments. The Movement Against Parking Meters, one suspects, may be in temporary hibernation, but will wake up quickly enough if the need arises.