PARKING METER FIASCO: Contract’s ‘terror clause’ protects Smart City Solutions
…different approach by City Council could have avoided troubles – President
As the controversy surrounding the paid parking system continues to mount, Government has now come out saying it is not satisfied with the deal between the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) and Smart City Solutions Incorporated (SCSI).
This pronouncement was made by President David Granger on the weekly televised programme – ‘The Public Interest’ – which aired on Friday evening. The declaration came on the heels of City Council returning to the discussion table; firstly, to iron out issues and concerns of civil society and secondly, to have renewed arrangements with SCS, the company contracted to implement the paid parking system in the country.
“Let me say that the Government of Guyana is not satisfied with the general provisions of the Parking Meter Project. The Government engaged with the municipality to have another look at the project and engage with civil society and the business community with a view of arriving at an outcome which is acceptable to both sides,” the President said to reporters during the programme.
There has been widespread public outcry against the Parking Meter Project over the past months with a movement staging protest actions against the “draconian” costs and penalties of the project. This cry for help from Central Government prompted a meeting between the President and M&CC last week. Following that meeting, it was announced on Friday that the clamping of vehicles and institution of fines will be placed on hold pending talks to revise the parking fees as well as discussions with civil society.
According to the Head of State during the televised programme, his Administration believes that the rates are high and that there should have been certain parking exemptions from the inception, issues which he said have largely contributed to the troubles the project is facing.
At the same time, he sought to address the concerns of businesses who are claiming that since the operation of the paid parking system in the city they have been experiencing a dip in their business activities. The President outlined that while he understands the predicament of the businesses, the City Council needs to generate revenues.
“Nobody likes paying taxes but how will the city run… One of the leading protesters, I would even say an instigator, has actually wrote the City Council for waivers of taxes which are due. You are saying there must be no Parking Meter Project and on the other hand, you want waivers… Pay your taxes and let the city run properly and we won’t have to resort to these measures,” he stated.
However, Government had initially maintained that it was not going to intervene into the matter as it was giving the M&CC its independence to run the city.
Governance Minister Raphael Trotman at a recent post-Cabinet press conference had said “No,” when asked if Government is likely to intervene, given the rejection and huge outcry by citizens on parking meters.
Closely guarded contract
Since the signing of the contract, the document has been closely guarded with Council members only allowed viewing. After concerns were raised, Cabinet directed that the contract was reviewed by the Finance Ministry and the Attorney General Chambers during which it was found that most of the terms are overwhelmingly in favour of Smart City Solutions and contains a ‘terror clause’.
It was reported that the review highlighted that if the City unilaterally terminates the agreement, it would be bound to “pay the concessionaire a lump sum payment equivalent to the total direct and indirect, hard and soft cost cumulative gross investment of the concessionaire in the project”.
Asked whether M&CC erred in handpicking the Mexican-based company as oppose to following proper procedures and going to tender, President Granger posited that he has not “double guess” the nature of the contract but thought these controversies could have been avoided had there been more consultations with stakeholders by the City Council before venture into the agreement.
“We do feel that the contract is burdensome and we feel that there was simply was enough communications with the other partners and civil society. We feel that was injurious to the character of the final contract. I believe if a procedure had been followed in which there was wider advertising, there could have been a different outcome but as I said, we have not double guessed the work of the Council and it’s a matter for the Council to decide. I don’t think that any law was broken but at the same time I fell that the approach of the City Council could have been different,” Granger pointed out.
Nevertheless, the Head of State noted that despite its dissatisfaction with the deal, Government is not going to impose a solution on the municipality and instead, will await the outcome of talks between the City Hall and civil society.
Against this backdrop, Granger sought to reiterate that he is not against a paid parking system in Georgetown since the city is in dire need of revenues to meet its daily needs.
“Government regards the parking meters as a legitimate means of getting taxes to run the city’s affairs. We use the roads, we see the canals, we enjoy certain facilities and these things have to be paid for,” he noted.
The Guyanese leader added that having a consensual Parking Meter Project would have served to address the traffic congestion in the city.
“It’s the national capital and it is felt that by the use of parking meters in certain areas, the congestion would be reduced so Government is not against the notion of a Parking Meter Project but… we felt that there needs to be more consultation and more communication and the arrival at a more consensual solution,” Granger asserted. (Reprinted: Today’s Guyana Times)