History has a way of repeating itself. The justification for some of the major projects made under the Jagdeo administration were that these projects did not result in any financial exposure for the state, no government funds were being held in equity and the projects would not add to the country’s national debt but would add economic benefits.
Strangely, this is exactly the same explanations that we are receiving today from the City Council of Georgetown in relation to the parking meter that the Council is proposing. The justification for the deal is that the council does not stand to lose (no exposure); it is not investing any money into the project (no equity) and that the project will not add to its indebtedness (no debt) but would instead provide a source of revenues for the cash-strapped council (economic benefits).
We have been thrown right back into the Jagdeo era by these explanations which do not address any of the major concerns that have been expressed over this arrangement of the parking meters.
There is the issue of due diligence. The City Council needs to state the checks that were done on the prospective companies that are involved in this deal. It needs to state also who conducted these checks on behalf of the Council.
The second issue is the issue of transparency. Why has the contract or Memorandum of Understanding not yet been made available to the full Council? Why was this deal not discussed with the full Council so that it could have received the blessings of the city’s fathers and mothers? Why also did this contract not go to public tender to ensure that the best deal available was on the table?
The third issue is the lack of consultation with the people of the City. The present Council is only a couple of months old. It has taken some image- building actions by cleaning- up the city. The sustainability of the works, however, has been called into question because weeds have reappeared in the Le Repentir burial ground and in many of the drains since the last cleaning. The mosquitoes are once again swarming the city, many of the cleaned alleyways have not been maintained and there has been legal action halting some of the demolitions at Stabroek Square.
The Council clearly could not have cleaned Georgetown without the assistance of Central Government or the private sector. It has not yet indicated the total amount of money that was spent in the clean-up exercise and how much of this was obtained from donation from the private sector. These disclosures are important in the interest of transparency.
The lack of transparency is not much different also from what the government is doing in respect to the monies it received from private donors for the works at Durban Park. There has been no accounting to the nation for the monies spent and perhaps it is time that the media ask those companies which are suspected to have given monies to that project just how much was given.
The City Council has to indicate how much was received from private individuals for the clean- up exercise. It has to provide the list of the contractors paid to do the work. It has to respond openly to some of the criticisms and allegations that are being made. If there is nothing to hide, there should be no obstacle to disclosure, other than for the purposes of contractual confidentiality.
There is the issue of the legality of parking meters. The Council no doubt feels that it has the authority to charge these fees for parking and for containers in the city. It seems to feel that the law empowers it to institute parking fees and container taxes. Well if it always had the power to do so, why then did it not do so for the past twenty odd years? What was preventing it from doing what it is doing now?
If it does not need legislative changes to institute the parking meters and the container tax, then why did it not go ahead in the past with these revenue generating measures? If it does not need the consent of the Minister responsible for local government then why did it not go ahead with these taxes and fees under the PPP regime?
The final issue that needs to be addressed is the issue of the readiness of the public for parking meters. The Council did experiment with privatizing the East Street parking square. The area which was developed by the Jagdeo administration as free parking for people who have to go to the hospital was handed over to a private company to operate by City Hall even though the parking facility was developed with taxpayer’s monies. The public has rebelled against that imposition and the parking lot is now a white elephant. It is not being used as it is supposed to be used because the people cannot afford to pay for parking in Guyana.
The Guyanese people are not yet ready for paid parking and for parking meters. The City Council is therefore risking its popularity by going ahead with a measure without adequate consultations with the people of Guyana.
This ironically was the main problem that most Guyanese had with the PPPC. The PPPC was moving too fast to do things too big that a country that was not comfortable with the transparency with what was being done.
The City Council must not become like the PPPC regime. It must show that it is different because we are in a different time. Are we?
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