Everywhere I go in the city, people keep asking me in dismay, “You mean it coming back? You think it will come back?” I take great pains to explain that it never left; it was only hibernating. I am talking about the parking meters, of course.
The work of the team set up by the officials of the M&CC, to re-negotiate the contract is commendable, for a number of reasons. Their twenty-six page report was made in the wake of trying circumstances, for mounting pressure had been brought to bear on City Hall as manifested in the eight massive public protest demonstrations against what was felt as an imposition.
Even more disturbing at first was that the elected councillors of the city were kept in the dark about the contents of the contract.
The purpose of setting up a re-negotiating team is in itself questionable. It’s like putting the cart before the horse. After the horse had bolted, wide-ranging consultations were conducted to appease the mounting opposition with the obvious aim of breaking the momentum of the protest action led by the Movement against Parking Meters (MAPM). It should be noted that the leading member of the Smart City Solutions Inc (SCS) in reply to a question from a radio listener on a public relations programme about what it would take for them to pack up and leave is alleged to have replied that it was expected that protest actions would take place as they did in Mexico where they lasted for a year. There he said SCS were prepared to wait for a whole year for the protest to fizzle out. This is tantamount to the city being held hostage.
There are some salient points to note:
.Many of the persons first interviewed by the first re-negotiating committee were not aware of the real issues involved and therefore their responses can be skewed in favour of the parking meters as a means of reducing congestion in the city or as a means of imposing ‘law and order’ in an otherwise chaotic situation.
Yet this report by the Re-negotiating Committee vindicates many of the arguments raised in previous debates and discussions, as to why the implementation of parking meters is not the answer to the congestion or the need for imposing law and order in the city.
.Other arguments that still stand and which are highlighted in the Report, include the exclusion of due diligence in the process, the question of the legality of the contract (still in court) since there was no tendering in the procurement process; the inequity of 80:20 which seems like a 3- card trick- 80 for SCS and a paltry 20 for M&CC. Moreover, the monopoly of the concessionaire over garage space seems not to have been carefully considered, since no proper feasibility study or impact assessment was done. The concessionaire was therefore able to make demands that were of a dubious nature as it relates to inflated estimates over a review period of 20 years. All of these points were highlighted in the Report.
There are further questions: We need to examine the reputation of such companies. We need to learn from the lessons of others, for example, the botched Chicago Parking Meter deal.
Since the contract is being challenged in court, why not await the verdict on its legality? What about taking it to arbitration in Guyana rather than in a court in America? This point was raised by political activist and social commentator, Ramon Gaskin.
The big question is whether metered parking is the only solution. Or is it that having signed the contract we are now trying to find a way out through appeasing the concessionaire? What then is the way out for the council, at the least?
There is more than enough evidence that there is a negative measurable impact on revenue collected in the city when the parking meters were first implemented before the suspension order was issued by the Minister. It was not business as usual. According to the Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), business was down by some 30%. This means less spending as customers shy away from businesses located in the city and move to suburban areas.
With the re-imposition of the parking meter scheme Georgetown is under threat of becoming a ghost town once again.
Can someone explain why the 2017 Budget discussion shut out the press from such important deliberations or why the Budget was not approved by the full council after it was presented, but was claimed to be approved by a vote on principle. A number of irregularities were pointed out with regard to the way statutory meetings are conducted. Minutes of previous meetings are many times corrected and approved with no discussion on ‘Matters Arising’ from councillors present.
Many questions directed to the Town Clerk are deferred without answers or plausible explanations being provided. When the Town Clerk is reminded he continues to divert to other issues. For example, how much does it cost council to pay for two guards for former Mayor, Hamilton Green or to confirm whether council has spent some three-quarters of a million dollars on a portable toilet rental for a guard at his residence, or how much it has cost the cash-strapped council for a retreat at Lake Mainstay for administration staff for four days in August 2016. No answers have yet been forthcoming although promised by the Town Clerk.
All the indications point to an increasing authoritarian regime emerging in the council with councillors the last to be consulted. The challenge to this growing trend is to hold free and fair elections and elections free from fear, by secret ballot, at the level of the municipality otherwise local democracy will remain threatened.
This time if we are to have a vision and plan seriously for the future, the council must allow for full and timely discussion on the 2018 Budget with the media in attendance, and voting be done for the new Mayor and Deputy at the end of December as required by Cap 28:01. This must be done not by a show of hands, but by secret ballot, as was done in the recent election of the present Mayor from New Amsterdam.
The Town Clerk who has misled the council on many occasions before, must not be allowed to frustrate this process by voting for secret balloting through a show of hands, thus defeating the motion as was done on the previous occasion.
As we look forward to 2018, a year full of challenges, local government elections scheduled for the end of the year will determine the way forward when a new democratic and accountable council is elected through the transparent process of the secret ballot.