Public rage in Georgetown continues to grow and expand as last Thursday’s massive demonstration shows, even as the Government has finally been forced to intervene in the parking meter fiasco. But it is too little too late. Boat gone a’ fall. The demand is now for the rescinding of the flawed agreement between the City Council and SCS.
The Government faltered when it allowed the City Council to proceed with the parking meter secret project, with charges that were outrageously high – 37 percent of the average monthly salary in Guyana as compared with a high of 13 percent of the monthly salary in the US. After the meeting between the Government and the City Council, the Government did not call for the release of the secret agreement. That is a telling omission.
No one doubts the dire need of the City Council for resources. Its current income from rates and taxes is inadequate to maintain even the basic services it now provides. The City Council has had to rely on the help of the central government in the past and continues to do so. The central government may have gone along with the parking meter plan because it wanted to support the City Council’s drive to increase revenue and to be itself relieved of the burden. It made a mistake. Many still remember the sustained campaign by the then Opposition against the $2,000 fee for crossing the Berbice Bridge. One of its first acts upon entering Government was to reduce those fees by way of subsidy.
In the face of Government support and the Opposition’s token objections, it took a while for resistance to develop. When the reality of the charges hit home it triggered the formation of the Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM), led by some prominent citizens. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that organized resistance has emerged because the fees are beyond the pockets of private car, taxi and mini bus owners who travel to or move around in Georgetown to work or do business. As yesterday’s press reports, including of Friday’s demonstration showed, big business, middle class employees, vendors and taxi drivers were all represented in the demonstration. A major concern appeared to be the dramatic reduction in retail trade for stores, shops and vendors. This should certainly invite Government’s concern.
On December 29 the Attorney General’s Chambers issued a statement asserting that the lease that had been granted to the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC) in connection with the property in Kingston, Georgetown, known as ‘Red House,’ was invalid. Extensive reasons were given as the basis for that conclusion. On the following day a statement by Mr. Anil Nandlall, a prominent and well-respected lawyer and former Attorney General, was published. It was an equally extensive statement with a detailed legal analysis challenging the conclusions of the statement of the Attorney General’s Chambers.
In the meantime, on the evening of December 29, a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency informed the public that the President had revoked the lease on the basis of the advice given by the Attorney General’s Chambers and had given the CJRC 48 hours to vacate the premises. The CJRC had occupied the premises for about fifteen years and had accumulated a vast amount of material. Even trespassers are given longer periods to vacate premises by courts. In law, the period given must be reasonable. 48 hours could not be reasonable under any circumstances.
The Government has deemed as suitable the bond owned by Linden Holdings in Sussex Street, Georgetown, which it contracted to store pharmaceuticals at $1,200 a square foot, when a bond for $228 a square is available. The Government said that the rental will be negotiated downwards and if the negotiations are unsuccessful then twelve months notice of termination in accordance with the agreement would be given. At $12 million a month, this will cost the Guyanese taxpayer $144 million, payable to Linden Holdings for an initial $25 million investment which it has already recovered as an initial advance.
The Government might make mistakes, as Vice President Ramjattan admitted, but it does not lack an innovative and fertile imagination. The objections to the Government owned Diamond bond, which has been approved as suitable by international agencies, are that a fire can occur and that the traffic situation is not conducive!
It appears as if the Georgetown City Council has already decided in principle to install parking meters in Georgetown for the purpose of creating an additional source of revenue. The streets in which the meters are to be installed are Avenue of the Republic, Regent Street, Robb Street, Camp Street, Main Street, Brickdam, Water Street, America Street and Church Street. This decision should be reconsidered.
Coming so soon after the elections, the decision to install parking meters was clearly on APNU+AFC’s agenda prior to the elections. During the elections, APNU+AFC contestants had ample opportunity to inform the residents of Georgetown that parking meters were on the agenda but they kept this plot a secret for obvious reasons.