Spearheaded by political heavyweight on the Georgetown City Councillor, Oscar Clarke, the Mayor of Georgetown Patricia Chase-Green announced for the first time in almost one year that copies of the controversial parking meter contract will be officially circulated to all 30 councillors.
“I would hope that the (City Hall) administration will circulate a copy of the original contract to every councillor. As I said, we don’t have anything to hide. We give one, it goes to the social media. We give all, it’s still in the social media. Let it go, let it go… I have nothing to hide. There is nothing corrupt in this deal so let it go, let them to see it.
Let them come to this table, air their views, as they would have done this afternoon, and we move forward. There is no going backwards,” she said.
Chase-Green had previously resisted councillors copying the contract and had insisted that they go to either her or Town Clerk, Royston King’s office to merely read the document if they so desired. Despite her stance then, pictures of the deal had been captured and posted on Facebook several months ago
But speaking at the end of almost two hours of discussions, Chase-Green also took cue from Clarke, who is also the People’s National Congress Reform’s (PNCR) General Secretary, that a negotiating team should be set up to meet with Smart City Solutions (SCS), the 80-percent stakeholder in the metered parking system.
The Mayor declined to go ahead with identifying the members of the negotiating team on Wednesday and instead said she preferred to go through with that process when all the councillors are present. Town Clerk King advised that members of that team would have to be elected by councillors.
Chase-Green and Clarke said it would be possible that the negotiators would be able to seek legal advice and meet with ministers including the Minister responsible for Local Government, Ronald Bulkan and the Cabinet sub-committee that has been established to deal with the issue.
Clarke also expressed confidence that City Hall would get more than three months to renegotiate the contract including the lowering of parking fees in exchange for a longer period for the return of investment. He is also the Chairman of City Hall’s Finance Committee and one of the councillors who had travelled to Mexico to meet with parking meter investors there.
Clarke highlighted the importance of the parking meter system to not only earn much needed revenue but also part of an ongoing plan to restore order to Georgetown. “Those people who are saying that (parking meter system should be scrapped) must also how we are going to bring order and discipline to the city. It’s a new culture that we are trying to introduce. When we came into office here as councillors, what did we find. We found a dirty, nasty, stinking city….Within the last year and a half, this city has assumed a completely new aura,” he said, adding that protesters must agree that City Hall has improved the environment.
None of the councillors, including People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) councillors Khame Sharma and Bisram Kuppen, opposed the introduction of parking meters. Deputy Mayor, Lionel Jaikarran was down to speak, but had to leave because of what the Mayor said was a family emergency. Former Deputy Mayor, Sherod Duncan, who is regarded as the architect of opposition against the parking meter agreement, remained silent throughout the Council meeting.
The Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) continues to insist on the revocation of the City Hall- Smart City Solutions agreement because there was no competitive bidding and several conditions such as the first right to acquire lands for garage parking and the possible unilateral sale of impounded vehicles without recourse to the court.
PPP Councillor Kuppen called for a new contract to be negotiated with proper consultation with stakeholders, while contending that metered parking is not the only way to control traffic. He observed that the deal does not provide for Smart City to be punished. “One of the things that is missing is penalties for the concessionaire.”
Finance Committee member, Junior Garrett ruled out the revocation of the contract, saying such a move would send a bad messages to investors and those who provide loans and grants. “No revocation of the contract. Adjustments can be done. There are measures in the contract which state that adjustments, modifications can be done,” he said
He insisted that “parking meters are here to stay regardless of the protest.” “We see a handful of people that don’t live in Georgetown. They want to park their cars and the people in Georgetown cannot get funds to do drainage and irrigation and clear their garbage,” he said.
Agreeing with PPP Councillor Kuppen who moments earlier said it was people’s democratic right to protest, Garrette cautioned that “when we protest I hope you all don’t say we are hooligans.” He noted that”the people of Georgetown took this protest out there , denying them of funds for the development of their communities, they took it very lightly. I don’t think they can take it lightly for much longer.” He hoped that the “knock back don’t come.”
Councillor, Welton Clarke urged his fellow councillors to consider the public’s satisfaction and not be afraid to “tweak here and tweak there” but they should be wary of giving into demands for the contract to be revoked. “If we allow this parking meter to be scrapped, anything City Council comes up with , it is going to come under deep, deep, deep protest. It is going to have a domino effect. Every time after now, if we should bend to the request of others we in for trouble,” he said.
Garrette said the activation of the parking meters for a few weeks prior to the government-ordered suspension last month, City Hall earned GYD$600,000. He rejected suggestions that City Hall demand a 50-50 agreement instead of the current 20-80 in favour of Smart City Solutions, saying the company was bringing its technology and paying its electricity and corporate tax as well as maintaining equipment.
APNU Councillor, Ron Persaud continued to oppose the introduction of parking meters, saying he did not promise metered parking in his local government election. He recommended a GYD$5.00 tax on all fuel sold at filling stations in Georgetown as a better alternative to generate revenue for the cash-strapped City.
The city businessman expressed concern that City Hall is charging vendors GYD$1,500 per day to sell in the city compared to GYD$57 that Smart City Solutions has to pay.
Persaud recommended that representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Guyana Police Force’s Traffic Chief and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure be part of the negotiating team. At the same time, he is worried that the parking meter deal creates a monopoly, an observation that had been made in a review by the Ministry of Finance. “We are looking at facilitating a monopoly at a time when the world is going against monopoly, at a time when antitrust is becoming a problem,” he said. Persaud recommended more than one parking meter operator and different areas with different rates,” he said. He said City Hall must ensure the deal is fair, reasonable, affordable and in the interest of making Guyana a green (eco-friendly) and acceptable city.
Several councillors touted metered parking as a means of bringing order to an overcrowded city, reduced pollution, reduced fuel cost in search of parking spots in the absence of metered parking and improved security through the presence of traffic wardens and city constabulary officers.
The first ever negotiations for the introduction of parking meters took place in 1966 between City Hall and a company named Sandbach Parker.