It was Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America (USA), who once famously remarked, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” The West has since long considered these words as capturing the quintessence of modern electoral democratic governance.
At the 2017 local government elections, the citizens of Georgetown voted overwhelmingly for the list of candidates presented by the APNU+AFC. Within one year of those elections, the City Council, through its Chief Executive Officer, the Town Clerk, announced that parking meters would be installed in the city of Georgetown. Not a word of this major project and the first of its kind was ever mentioned to the electorate during the campaign of the local government elections. In fact, the constituents of Georgetown were promised no increases in rates nor taxes and no new charges or fees of any kind at City Hall. Prior to the announcement of the implementation of the parking meter project, no attempt whatsoever was made to consult with the citizenry or to solicit their views in any manner whatsoever on this important matter.
I distinctly recall that on the eve of their departure to Mexico, to negotiate the parking meter contract, the team from the City Council, comprising of the Mayor, the Town Clerk and Councillor Oscar Clarke, former General Secretary of the PNC, made a courtesy call on the President at the Ministry of Presidency and presumably briefed him on the details of their intended trip. It therefore means that from the very inception, the government knew of this project and gave it its blessings. Every attempt made, thereafter, to distance itself from this project and to convey the impression that the City Council was acting of its own volition and without the support of the government, was vulgar hypocrisy and shameless political dishonesty.
Shortly after that team returned to Guyana, there was a public announcement that a parking meter contract was signed. This was done without the matter being discussed at all by or at the council. Several requests by Councillors for a copy of the contract were denied. Multiple requests to merely read the contract were stoutly rejected. These requests included those made by several APNU+AFC Councillors. When the Councillors were eventually permitted to read the contract, they had to do so under the watchful eye of armed security! Imagine the Georgetown City Council, as a collective, is part of and bound by a contract that was neither discussed, nor moreover approved, nor even read by the council as a collective. If this is not the height of authoritarianism and political dictatorship then I do not know what is.
By this time, public dissent against the contract had risen to soaring heights and there were weekly massive protests around the precincts of City Hall by thousands of citizens, including top leaders in the business community and civil society. The PPP, while expressing its unyielding support, deliberately stayed away from these protest actions so as to give civil society and the citizenry an opportunity to express their angst. Additionally, there was no need to offer political fodder to the government.
In order to save face, the government attempted to, duplicitously, distance itself from the contract. However, to pull off these machinations, requires skill and competence. Both are woefully lacking in this government. Characteristically, they committed a grave faux pas, when Cabinet decided to review the contract and sent it to the Attorney General for his advice. No serious objection was taken by the AG to the contract. Therefore, the government stamped the project with its imprimatur, a second time. By this time, the public outrage against the contract was fever pitch. The then Deputy Mayor, Sherrod Duncan, became a causality of this imbroglio. He was forced to resign as Deputy Mayor. Not surprisingly, his senior leaders in the government refused to stand by his side. They threw him to the proverbial wolves. They have since devoured him. He has lost his voice since.
Public spirited citizens started to play a more active role. They approached the courts and one Judge even quashed the by-laws under which the parking meter project was being implemented. That ruling, however, has been appealed. Eventually, the government indicated the need to renegotiate the contract, which has now been done, so lo and behold, after a few months of lull, the monster has been resurrected. This time around, Minister Joseph Harmon told the press that “the City Council must be allowed to govern”. The government, again, has given the parking meter project its tacit approval for the third time. The PNC is an autocratic party. The PNC Councillors control the City Council by a huge majority. The City Council will never implement a project that does not enjoy the support and approval of the PNC. Make no mistake, the parking meter is a PNC project.
Readers would recall that the AFC was emphatic in opposition to this project in the first incarnation of the project. It is common knowledge that the AFC leaders in the council were beaten into submission and put in their places. As I pointed above, Duncan was hounded out as Deputy Mayor. Lionel Jaikarran was shamelessly prevented from even participating in the elections for Deputy Mayor. Being now reduced to an invertebrate, the AFC has become mum on the parking meter issue. The fees have been reduced, but the citizens are no closer to supporting this project.
Amended by-laws have been sent to Minister Ronald Bulkan for his approval and onward transmission. The George-town Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and the Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) have publicly signalled their intentions to challenge these by-laws. As far as I am aware, there are still pending court proceedings against the parking meter project.
In the face of all of this, the council is moving ahead. There appears to be no regard whatsoever for the citizens’ views on this matter. The City Council and the government are demonstrating, most clearly, that the views and the voices of the people do not matter to them. It is our way or no way.
The approach in relation to the parking meter contract is symptomatic of its approach in so many other sectors. The oil and gas sector stands out. Every stakeholder’s organization and public commentator, including those who passionately support this government, have condemned this contract. The government’s reaction is aptly captured in the words of Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin, who arrogantly asserted “we are not concerned with a vociferous tiny minority” – a statement reeking of autocracy.
This government has drifted so far away from that contemplated by President Abraham Lincoln that they have simply lost sight of it. As for the green monsters, I hope the residents of Georgetown continue to resist this horrendous imposition. I remain steadfast with them.
Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP