Guyana retains US law firm to defend against US$100M claim over failed parking meter project

Anil Nandlall

The Guyana Government has retained a law firm from Washington, USA – Foley Hoag and Associates – which would be leading a team from the Attorney General Chambers to defend the US$100M proceedings filed by Mexican firm, Smart City Solutions (SCS), over the failed parking meter project in Guyana.

This was confirmed by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall who explained that his Chambers has already been served copies of all the documents filed on behalf of the company.

“The proceedings have already begun…One of the first tasks is to appoint a panel of arbitrators who will be presiding [over the case]. That process is ongoing. When the tribunal is appointed, then we will file our answer to their claim and make all or any technical objections,” he related.

However, the AG could not say how long the appointment process would take.

It was revealed on Tuesday by Nandlall that SCS has filed a US$100 million claim against the Guyana Government over the controversial parking meter project that was introduced under the APNU/AFC Government five years ago, but had to be stalled after massive rejection and outcry by citizens of Georgetown.

SCS filed the proceedings at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington DC, United States. The ICSID is an arbitration institution established by the World Bank Group to address legal dispute resolution and conciliation between international investors and States.

According to the Centre’s website, the case was filed on December 22, 2021. It was noted that the acting Secretary-General has registered a request for the institution of arbitration proceedings.

Back in May 2016, the Georgetown Mayor and City Council under Mayor Patricia Chase-Green signed a contract with Smart City Solutions for the paid parking system to be rolled out in Georgetown.

The meters were active in January 2017, but this was met with strong resistance from the then PPP/C Opposition, Private Sector bodies, and ordinary citizens, who formed an organisation called Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) – which went on to hold some of the largest non-political protests ever seen in the city.

Amid public pressure, the Guyana Government finally intervened and suspended the bylaws which paved the way for the implementation of metered parking, thus effectively halting the parking meter project. The project has since remained stalled.

Meanwhile, in January 2018, a ‘Parking Meter Renegotiation Committee’ at City Hall proposed a reduction in the parking fee from $500 per hour to $150 per hour. Three months later, the then City Council approved amendments to the bylaws, and had even appeared before the Coalition Cabinet to discuss the changes of the contract, but the then Government never gave the green light for the project to recommence.

However, a new City Council was elected later that year, and current Mayor Ubraj Narine had told this publication back in April 2019 that he was in no rush to reintroduce the initiative. He explained that parking meters are a good initiative for the city, “but it’s the way you introduce [it]”.

Although the contract had already been renegotiated, the Mayor also indicated that he would still need to further renegotiate with the investors before moving to reintroduce the project.

Nevertheless, during his programme, AG Nandlall contended that this latest proceeding against the State is reflective of a series of destructive acts left behind by the APNU/AFC Coalition that the PPP/C Government has to now clean up.

“This is (the) kind of destruction that these people have done…and then you saw their behaviour again in the National Assembly just (two weeks) ago… I don’t know what is wrong with this bunch,” Nandlall expressed.

“And these people are still clamouring for power…we have to be reminded of the destruction. These are invaluable taxpayers’ dollars that we will have to now spend in defending a claim, and APNU and AFC and PNC are living their merry lives. They don’t have anything to do with this. They just wash their hands off of it and left this burden with us to carry,” the AG asserted.