Park­ing me­ters, round two

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

The marathon meet­ing of the Ge­orge­town City Coun­cil on Thurs­day ran the gamut from the ra­tio­nal to the ris­i­ble. The oc­ca­sion was a de­ci­sion on the vexed ques­tion of the park­ing meter con­tract, fol­low­ing the sub­mis­sion of a re­port on the mat­ter last month by a coun­cil com­mit­tee. As we re­ported on Fri­day, the coun­cil by the slen­der­est ma­jor­ity of one, de­cided to re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions with Smart City So­lu­tions (SCS), the in­vestor in the pro­ject, for re­vised terms. Twelve coun­cil­lors voted against this pro­posal, five of whom were in favour of a com­plete rescis­sion of the con­tract and seven of whom wanted a de­ci­sion on it post­poned pend­ing a High Court rul­ing on the mat­ter of its le­gal­ity.

It was the lat­ter po­si­tion in fact which was rec­om­mended by the Chair­man of the com­mit­tee, Mr Mal­colm Fer­reira, a mem­ber of Team Legacy, although his po­lit­i­cal col­league, Carolyn Cae­sarMur­ray dis­as­so­ci­ated her­self from that stance and voted with the ma­jor­ity. Our story quoted her as telling the re­porter sub­se­quently that wait­ing on the court, “chal­lenges the le­gal­ity of the con­tract. Since it was sent to the AG and they pro­nounced it le­gal, I am con­fi­dent that it is le­gal… [Se­lect­ing this op­tion] now saves time and fast­tracks get­ting things done to make sure the con­tract is in line with the Mu­nic­i­pal and Dis­trict Coun­cils Act.” If the logic of this par­tic­u­lar piece of gob­blede­gook would have de­feated her fel­low coun­cil­lors had they heard it, is im­pos­si­ble to gauge; how­ever, again it must be noted that twelve of them voted in con­cert with her.

The ra­tio­nal­ity of that act in it­self is be­yond the un­der­stand­ing of the Ge­orge­town cit­i­zenry, since if the High Court even­tu­ally finds the con­tract il­le­gal, the city coun­cil would have to aban­don any ne­go­ti­a­tions with SCS, and re­turn to the draw­ing board. Given what has hap­pened and the an­tipa­thy which the park­ing meter con­tract has aroused among city res­i­dents, the wor­thies around the horse­shoe ta­ble might dis­cover that their lo­cal elec­torate is not go­ing to tol­er­ate park­ing me­ters in any shape or form. Be that as it may, if me­ters were still to be pur­sued for cen­tral Ge­orge­town, at the very least the coun­cil would be re­quired to ad­here both to cen­tral and lo­cal gov­ern­ment laws as it re­lates to the award­ing of con­tracts. That, it must be em­pha­sized, was glar­ingly ab­sent in the case of SCS.

One can only mar­vel that Ms Cae­sar-Mur­ray – although in fair­ness to her, per­haps also by im­pli­ca­tion the other twelve coun­cil­lors who raised their hands with her – was not aware that the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral is not the ul­ti­mate le­gal author­ity

in this land. If the thir­teen were aware of this, and Ms Cae­sar-Mur­ray’s pro­nounce­ment was just a con­vo­luted way of say­ing they should take a gam­ble on the High Court’s rul­ing, then they are act­ing most ir­re­spon­si­bly; the city’s busi­ness is not a poker game. The ob­jec­tive logic of this par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion meant that there were only two pos­si­ble votes: one to wait for a High Court rul­ing, and the other to go for the more ab­so­lute po­si­tion of re­vo­ca­tion of the con­tract. In the lat­ter in­stance it could be ar­gued that it does not mat­ter what the court rul­ing is.

Mr Fer­reira, it must be said, was not in agree­ment with a vote for the more ab­so­lute po­si­tion, be­cause he said, it would open the city to le­gal ac­tion from SCS. It might be men­tioned, how­ever, that lawyers have al­ready ex­pressed the view that the so-called ‘ter­ror clause’ in the con­tract would not stand up even in a for­eign court, where SCS would likely take a breach of con­tract case. As for what would hap­pen if the coun­cil went ahead with rene­go­ti­at­ing the con­tract, and the court de­clared it il­le­gal, Mr Fer­reira said the city would then be ex­posed to pos­si­ble law­suits from ev­ery cit­i­zen who had paid for park­ing un­der it.

It might be ob­served too, that SCS might sim­ply not be amenable to any rene­go­ti­a­tion, or if they are, the terms and con­di­tions of a re­newed con­tract would be no more palat­able than the ex­ist­ing ones. In any event, one would have thought by now that the coun­cil would have got the mes­sage that the ma­jor­ity of Ge­orge­town­ers sim­ply do not want SCS any­where near a park­ing meter pro­ject. What will they do, there­fore, if they are hit with an­other boy­cott and se­ries of demon­stra­tions by city res­i­dents in the face of a rene­go­ti­ated con­tract? Their whole ap­proach seems short-sighted and im­prac­ti­cal.

Town Clerk Roys­ton King, who has played such a cen­tral role in the whole park­ing meter saga, was not about to pass up an op­por­tu­nity to throw an ir­rel­e­vant span­ner into the works, by claim­ing that the com­mit­tee had ex­ceeded its man­date. Ac­cord­ing to our re­port it was Mayor Pa­tri­cia Chase-Green, no less, who rightly wasted no time in slap­ping down this im­proper in­ter­ven­tion, since the full coun­cil had al­ready ac­cepted the re­port in its en­tirety. Never one to be si­lenced eas­ily, our re­porter re­lated how Mr King per­sisted with a Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion which pro­duced the per­ti­nent ob­jec­tion from Coun­cil­lor An­drea Marks, “We ain’t wanna see all that.”

What the coun­cil did want to know was that the Town Clerk had been au­tho­rized to af­fix his sig­na­ture and stamp to the con­tract, which he as­sured them he had. How­ever, Coun­cil­lor Fraser, who had sat on the pre­vi­ous coun­cil said that he did not re­call be­ing present at any meet­ing or see­ing any doc­u­ment which au­tho­rized the Town Clerk to enter into a con­tract with SCS.

So we have now reached a point where a ques­tion has been asked about Mr King’s doc­u­mented au­tho­riza­tion to sign a con­tract with a com­pany which is se­cre­tive in the ex­treme, and re­fused to give the com­mit­tee ac­cess to its fea­si­bil­ity study and busi­ness pro­posal un­less a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment was signed. The com­mit­tee quite jus­ti­fi­ably would not ac­cede to this.

As we re­ported yes­ter­day SCS de­clined to pro­vide proof of the mil­lions it claimed it had made in in­vest­ments in the pro­ject, and the com­mit­tee’s re­port said that con­sul­ta­tions with an in­de­pen­dent ac­coun­tant had raised “red flags”, sev­eral of which were listed. In ad­di­tion, meet­ings with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Min­istry of Fi­nance sug­gested that the city had failed to per­form due dili­gence. In­ter­est­ingly too, we re­ported that the ac­coun­tant found that the Gov­ern­ment of Guyana stood to col­lect more rev­enue than the City of Ge­orge­town, although SCS would re­ceive most of the money.

So in the con­text of all this neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion about SCS – which, by the way, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble for the me­dia to con­tact – and given the his­tory of the re­sponse of Ge­orge­town­ers to the park­ing me­ters, why did so many coun­cil­lors vote to rene­go­ti­ate the con­tract? One can un­der­stand the diehards who were ac­tively in­volved in the con­tract, sup­ported by the Town Clerk, but what about the oth­ers? Is this an ex­pres­sion of party sol­i­dar­ity (although there was some break­ing of po­lit­i­cal ranks), rather than the ex­pres­sion of a gen­uine view­point? So what is cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s view on this mat­ter? They missed the op­por­tu­nity to cir­cum­vent all this con­fu­sion many months ago when the At­tor­ney Gen­eral had the op­por­tu­nity to de­clare the con­tract il­le­gal, which the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance for his part of the ex­er­cise, did do.

What City Hall has to un­der­stand is that ir­ra­tional de­ci­sions ad­hered to doggedly for no ob­vi­ous rea­son cause the cit­i­zenry to re­gard the coun­cil­lors as ex­traor­di­nar­ily in­com­pe­tent, if they don’t ac­tu­ally be­come the sub­ject un­nec­es­sar­ily of un­to­ward al­le­ga­tions.

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