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Attorney General says parking meter contract can be “frustrated” ; govt suspended metered parking over transparency concerns

FLASH BACK: Georgetown Mayor Patricia Chase-Green shows the parking meter contract, and the newly gazetted by-laws.

The Guyana government ordered a halt  metered parking in Georgetown over concerns about a lack of transparency in the deal between City Hall and Smart City Solutions (SCS), and Attorney General, Basil Williams has gone as far as saying the company could be frustrated and no court would award compensation.

“The Attorney General stated that if the company is playing hardball the committee could do the same. He noted that he would recommend that the contract be frustrated and the company will not be able to sue. He noted that if it is said that the project is not in the best interest of the country that would be the end of the project and if the company did sue, it would get nothing,” he was quoted as saying in minutes of the meeting that accompany the Final Report by City Hall’s Parking Meter Negotiating Committee following a series of meetings.

He said a new intervening act , which relieves the defendant from responsibility, could occur if either party cannot perform.

When Williams was told on July 21, 2017 by City Hall’s Parking Meter Negotiating Committee that SCS conducted  has refused to release information about the level of its investment in metered parking unless a non-disclosure agreement is signed, he said the “money could have been sourced from” several activities that he named. The Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs was also told that no due diligence on the company was conducted.

In a separate meeting between the Committee ad Finance Secretary, Dr. Hector Butts,  that Ministry of Finance official agreed that in addition to a feasibility study, the concessionaire should submit capital investment about its resources. “F.S. Butts stated that the question is valid and noted that someone who looks at the project without understanding the basis of finance has to be in a different world because one has to recognise if it is going to come from domestic funds. There are capital laws; it is not for the ministry to look at it but there is need to establish the source of funds. The onus is on the committee to follow up whether those companies are shell companies or depreciable companies,” he  was quoted as saying in minutes of a meeting held on July 13, 2017 at the Ministry of Finance Boardroom.

With Chartered Accountant, L.A. Atherly having found that SCS might have inflated its level of investment by about 29 percent but it could be as high as 50 percent, the Finance Secretary further reportedly stated that the company would have to present bills to allow authorities to cross-check them with quotations from overseas. “He also suggested hat the specs on the parking meters  be read as to know whether they are new meters or refurbished,” states the record of the meeting.

The Attorney General reportedly told the Committee that the Mayor and City Council has an agreement with SCS, and he questioned why he company did not take legal action when “government seized the project.” Williams suggested that the committee informs the company that government could suspend the contract.

The City Hall- SCS contract, he said, could be further amended on the basis of the consultations, but the contract could be scrapped only if the two parties agree, with the property still belonging to the company.

The Chairman of the Negotiating Committee, Councillor Malcolm Ferreira said his grouping did not plan to meet SCS until recommendations were submitted.

The Attorney General recalled that an idea for the company to take a 20 percent stake and City Hall 80 percent has been already thrown put by the company and it instead settled for the three-month suspension.

With regards to a provision in the contract that allows SCS to seize and sell property after three weeks, the Attorney General advised the committee that the company would first have to obtain a court order.

Lack of transparency

Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan said in his meeting with the committee on May 4, 2017 that government intervened in the parking meter debacle because of concerns about transparency in the deal between City Hall and SCS.

Against the background of the fact that the entire Council did not vote on whether to ink the agreement with SCS, Bulkan said that contributed to bad press and publicity. “Minister Bulkan said that of greatest importance in the correspondence was the issue where it was felt that initial contract did not have sufficient buy-in by the council and it was not fully a decision of the the Council. He stated that it appeared as though there was not enough discussion and transparency prior to the inking of that contract and that the was the central defect,” states the record of that meeting.

The Local Government Minister did not point fingers at anyone specifically but noted that the Parking Meter Negotiating Committee did not include any of the early architects of the deal. “He stated that he appreciates the fact that no member of the former negotiation team is a  member of the new team and it signals the council’s willingness to adopt a fresh approach to the initiative,” he said.

The members of the previous team included City Mayor, Patricia Chase-Green; Chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee, Oscar Clarke; Finance Committee member, Councillor Junior Garrett and Town Clerk, Royston King.

Bulkan, who is responsible for the local government system, said he fully supports paid parking in Georgetown to earn City Hall some much needed cash and assist with traffic management.

The Committee says it has found that most persons consulted are willing to pay GYD$20 per hour if the metered parking is reintroduced.

The new Committee members are Chairman, Malcolm Ferreira; Vice Chairman, Noelle Chow-Chee, Heston Bostwick, Carlyle Goring, Ivelaw Henry, Roopnarine ‘Ron’ Persaud and Trichria Richards.
Assistant Town Clerk, Sherry Jerrick was the Secretary to the Committee.