Round Two

Stabroek News Sunday - - EDITORIAL -

In an act of sin­gu­lar per­ver­sity the City Coun­cil held a spe­cial meet­ing on Wed­nes­day to ap­prove the amended by-laws for park­ing me­ters. It was, as we re­ported the fol­low­ing day, the only topic on the agenda, and it was passed by a ma­jor­ity of 13 to two. There were two ab­sten­tions. In cir­cum­stances where the AFC el­e­ment in the coali­tion failed to get a mo­tion for se­cret bal­lot­ing passed dur­ing the last statu­tory meet­ing, some Coun­cil­lors de­cided to go miss­ing in ac­tion. So out of twenty-eight Coun­cil­lors in to­tal, nine sim­ply ab­sented them­selves in­stead, pre­sum­ably, of vot­ing openly against the mo­tion. Taken to­gether with the two PPP Coun­cil­lors who voted against, and the two who ab­stained, the re­sult was hardly a ring­ing en­dorse­ment of the lat­est ver­sion of the by-laws. It should be added that the Mayor did not al­low Coun­cil­lors longer than three min­utes to give their views, so it was hardly a ring­ing en­dorse­ment of lo­cal democ­racy ei­ther.

The real prob­lem is, of course, not the by-laws in and of them­selves, but the fact that they ap­ply to a project which has still has not found en­dorse­ment in the courts as yet. This was some­thing which Team Legacy Coun­cil­lor Mal­colm Fer­reira pointed out to the coun­cil on Wed­nes­day, urg­ing them to wait un­til the court had ruled. As it is, there are two cases be­fore the courts at present, one of which has not been de­cided. The sec­ond was a chal­lenge to pre­vi­ous by-laws brought by the New Build­ing So­ci­ety, which the lat­ter won. That set­back, how­ever, gave City Hall ab­so­lutely no pause for thought, since it ab­surdly de­cided to ap­peal the de­ci­sion.

So now we’re in the lu­di­crous po­si­tion of ap­prov­ing by-laws when we don’t even know if the con­tract for park­ing me­ters to which they ap­ply will be deemed le­gal by the courts. What kind of coun­cil is this? Who are these peo­ple who are sup­posed to be tak­ing in­tel­li­gent, ra­tio­nal and com­mon sense de­ci­sions on our be­half?

The ex­cuse given by one Coun­cil­lor for pur­su­ing this mat­ter with such strange vigour is that the coun­cil might be sued by Smart City So­lu­tions, the con­trac­tor. One can only sug­gest that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity ex­pand its panel of lawyers so it can be the ben­e­fi­ciary of far more so­phis­ti­cated le­gal opin­ions on likely out­comes – the pop­u­lace has al­ready heard some of these from lawyers as­so­ci­ated with the pop­u­lar protest ‒ be­fore it pro­ceeds fur­ther.

Af­ter more than twenty years with­out lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, those run off in 2017 were a breath of fresh air, and great ex­pec­ta­tions were held of them. How­ever, new struc­tures and pro­ce­dures not­with­stand­ing, in many cases they were still con­tam­i­nated by our in­fer­nal po­lit­i­caleth­nic di­vide. What hap­pened, there­fore, was that vot­ers chose par­ties and per­sons they knew, not those who might have been gifted with a lit­tle com­pe­tence. Ge­orge­town, of course, was par­tic­u­larly badly treated un­der the PPP/C, and the con­se­quence was that the southern wards were more con­cerned about vot­ing them out, than look­ing at the CVs of those who had po­ten­tial as coun­cil­lors.

Min­is­ter of State Joseph Har­mon found him­self fac­ing the press on the day fol­low­ing the meet­ing on the mat­ter of whether cen­tral gov­ern­ment would in­ter­vene given the cir­cum­stances. It had, of course, in­ter­vened on two oc­ca­sions prior to this, on the first oc­ca­sion to re­view the con­tract with Smart City So­lu­tions. The Min­istry of Fi­nance heav­ily crit­i­cized the con­tract, and while the At­tor­ney Gen­eral Cham­bers fol­lowed suit, al­beit a lit­tle less ro­bustly, it did not rec­om­mend that it be de­clared in­valid.

If the AG’s Cham­bers showed it­self on the tim­o­rous side, the city pop­u­la­tion showed it­self a great deal less so. Reg­u­lar protests in Re­gent Street against the park­ing me­ter con­tract of a kind not seen in the cap­i­tal for many moons, even­tu­ally per­suaded the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ties with Cabi­net back­ing, to act and sus­pend the by-laws while var­i­ous is­sues were ad­dressed.

As far as Mr Har­mon and gov­ern­ment is con­cerned, the City Coun­cil is in­de­pen­dent, and we quoted him as say­ing that the cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion only in­ter­venes “when the city re­quests it or if ac­tions are taken which af­fect in a se­ri­ous way the

safety and se­cu­rity of the cit­i­zens.” He also told the me­dia: “These de­ci­sions that are be­ing made are well within the re­mit of the City Coun­cil and, there­fore, un­less an ap­proach is made to cen­tral gov­ern­ment, we will pre­fer to al­low the City Coun­cil to do its work” The be­lea­guered cit­i­zens, it seems, can only give their opin­ion as to whether “the city fa­thers and moth­ers are do­ing a good job” at elec­tion time.

He is of course be­ing a bit disin­gen­u­ous, since the PNC – not even APNU and cer­tainly not the AFC – is in con­trol in Ge­orge­town, and can in­struct its Coun­cil­lors how to vote, and who, for ex­am­ple, the party wants as mayor. It is not an un­rea­son­able hy­poth­e­sis, there­fore, that for some rea­son the party is not op­posed to the park­ing me­ter con­tract, which is why it is not pre­pared to in­ter­fere in the City Coun­cil’s busi­ness, ei­ther di­rectly or in­di­rectly.

As for cit­i­zens be­ing re­stricted to elec­tions to give ex­pres­sion to their opin­ions, if that is what Min­is­ter Har­mon se­ri­ously be­lieves, then those who live and work in Ge­orge­town might be about to en­lighten him if those clus­tered around the horse­shoe ta­ble de­cide to blud­geon their way through op­pos­ing ar­gu­ments. The Move­ment Against Park­ing Me­ters, one sus­pects, may be in tem­po­rary hi­ber­na­tion, but will wake up quickly enough if the need arises.

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