By: Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP, Attorney-at-Law
The controversy surrounding the impending installation of parking meters in the City of Georgetown rages on like an inferno. Public criticisms continue to emanate from various quarters. However, it has not blunted the enthusiasm of the quartet, the Mayor, the Town Clerk, Councilors Oscar Clarke and Junior Garret.
Like the once fearsome and indomitable four prong pace-bowling attack of the great West Indies team of a bygone era, they are proceeding at a breakneck speed towards the finish line. Anyone who has a mere fleeting understanding of the politics of the PNC would know that the decision to implement parking meters in its stronghold, Georgetown, by a few at City Hall could never have passed muster without the support of the leadership of the PNC.
Indeed, the now infamous quartet were all candidates of the APNU. One is the General Secretary of the PNC. Readers will recall that prior to their departure on the controversial trip to Mexico; they held a briefing session at the Office of the President. Therefore, no one can convince me that it was not APNU’s decision to impose the parking meter system in Georgetown. The quartet at City Hall is simply the instrument carrying out the decision. In relation to the removal of the pavement vendors, the identical modus operandi was applied. The intellectual authors of that decision were the APNU. The Town Clerk and his staff were simply the hatchet men.
“I getting like Harmon”
However, the naivety of the intellectual authors of the parking meters’ decision was soon exposed. It is obvious that they did not anticipate the level of public outrage. They got away with the astronomical salary increases which they paid to themselves. They got away with the removal of the pavement Vendors. They got away with hundreds of millions worth of contracts given to handpicked friends and financiers in violation of the Procurement Act. They got away with the closure of Wales Sugar Estate. They got away with conning the rice farmers. And many more.
So, naturally, they have become bolder. That is the only reason why Oscar Clarke can impudently remark to the press after he returned from Mexico “I have no apologies to make to anyone; I getting like Mr. Harmon.” But after the public criticisms continue to inundate, more so from their own supporters, the Government began to extricate itself from the parking meter debacle. It began with glib public calls to those at City Hall for greater transparency in relation to this project. As the decibel of public denunciation increased, Government announced that it will “review” the contract. The Attorney-General was assigned the responsibility to do so.
In their haste to distance themselves from the controversy, the Government committed fundamental errors that exposed their political psyche, irretrievably. They demonstrated to the world that the doctrine of party paramountcy is embedded in their political philosophy and therefore, because a majority of their candidates constitute the Council for the City of Georgetown, they see the Council as a mere extension of Central Government. That is the reason why they have no conceptual difficulty in issuing the directions which they have given, for example, to remove the pavement vendors as well as to sign the parking meter contract. In similar vein, those to whom these directions are given at City Hall see nothing wrong in blindly executing these dictates. After all, these directions are coming from those whom they perceive to be their political masters. In this party paramountcy and authoritarian matrix, the independence which the law confers upon the City Council as a duly elected body, is lost. That the Council can only lawfully and democratically make decisions as a collective where a majority view or vote shall prevail, is a concept that has no place in the mindset of the authoritarians. As a result, although this contract for parking meters was signed since last year, to date, it was never discussed by the Council. The Mayor is so far removed from democratic realities that she still nonchalantly maintain that she will not show the contract to the Council because she fear that it will be “leaked”.
This is an expression of unparallelled ignorance. Firstly, that contract ought not to be signed unless it was approved by a majority at the Council. Secondly, while the Mayor or Town Clerk may be the signatory to the contract it remains a contract between the Georgetown Mayor and City Council and the Contractor and therefore, every member of that Council is entitled as of right to be furnished with a copy of the same. Indeed, every rate payer of Georgetown and every member of the public who is likely to be affected by that contract ought to be given a copy of the same. In short, that contract is not secret. It is a public document of which the public is entitled to a copy.
Another feature of the contract which is clouded in controversy is the process by which this Contractor was arrived at. It is common knowledge that over the last year hundreds of millions worth of contracts were given by the City Council to contractors who were handpicked without any resort to any form of public procurement. In this regard, the Bourda Mall and Durban Park projects standout. These projects reek of unadulterated corruption. This parking meter contract is newest addition to the lineup. No public bidding of any kind was embarked upon. The company named to provide these parking meters is unheard of in this part of the world. Its credentials, capabilities and reputation are absolutely unknown in Guyana. Is the rate which they are expected to charge competitive? Are these parking meters accurate? Is 80%:20% the best deal available on the market? No one knows the answers to these questions. Moreover, is parking meter the best option available? What type of study was done to arrive at this decision to implement parking meters? With whom were consultations held, if at all? None of this information is available.
No statutory power cited
To date, no one has adverted to any statutory provision or regulation which lawfully authorizes the City Council to levy charges via parking meters. Tolls, fees, rates or taxes of any kind can only be levied by the State or public authorities by legislation. That is the cornerstone of English law since the Magna Carter over 800 years ago, which we inherited. This contract is fraught with so many difficulties and is susceptible to be legally challenged on so many grounds that it behoves those proceeding with it to do so with extreme circumspection.
No less a person in government than the President himself visited City Hall on Monday 27th June, 2016. The quartet at City Hall who has taken brunt of the public beating on the parking meter issue must have been elated with the news of the President’s visit. I am sure they believed that the President would have defended the parking meter contract. Their expectations were short-lived. They must have realized that the President main purpose was politically damage control in respect of both the vendors’ issue as well as the parking meter contract. The President gave no impression that his Government was in any way connected with these two matters. He instructed that better accommodation be found for the vendors and he requested that the Council review the parking meter matter. The President must have recognized the earlier error made by his Government to arrogate unto itself the responsibility to review the contract. In effect, the President threw the quartet under the bus. So, rather than alleviate their dilemma, the President has exacerbated it.