Prior to the announcement of the date for local government elections, there was speculation, particularly in Opposition circles, that the Government would find reasons not to hold the elections. It was believed that the Government had performed so badly that it would suffer significant losses and would not want to expose its flank, now that general elections are only two years away. The announcement in July by the Minister of Communities, Mr. Ronald Bulkan, that local government elections will be held on November 12 killed that speculation. The more significant news came later. It was reported that APNU and the AFC could not agree on a joint slate for the elections and would be going to the electorate separately. The long term viability of the coalition was put on the table. But observers welcomed the opportunity that it would give some indication of the relative strengths of the political parties, not by the number of seats they win, because of the element of the first past the post system in the elections, but by the number of votes that they obtain. Caution would have to be exercised in such assessments because of the expected low turnout, unless polls are conducted to determine the percentage turnout of supporters of each of the three contesting parties. Polls such as these complicated and are not conducted in Guyana.
The campaign has not met with great public enthusiasm. The coalition has suffered criticism from a poor economy, reports of corruption and bad governance for the Auditor General’s Report and the absence of President Granger, who has been receiving medical attention in Cuba over the past two weeks. Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, known as a dynamic election campaigner while in the PPP, has had to concentrate in rejuvenating the flagging fortunes of the AFC, which has been receiving very small attendances at its public meetings. It might well be that these factors will result in an especially low turnout of the governing parties’ supporters and will suppress their overall results. PNC/PNCR/APNU supporters have traditionally stayed away from the polls since the 1979 Referendum when wishing to express their disapproval.
The Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown (the City Council) have voted overwhelmingly to support a renegotiated contract for the establishment of parking meters in certain parts of the City. The major change is that the hourly rate has been reduced from $200 to $150 while an eight-hour day would cost $800. There were other minor revisions and concessions. The effect of the reduction by $50 an hour is like throwing a crumb to the citizenry.
The popular upsurge during last year against the imposition of parking meters was as a result of the high and unaffordable charges. It was pointed out that they were proportionately higher than parking meter charges in New York, a city that was 500 plus times wealthier than Georgetown where the charges for parking is US$1 an hour, the same as was proposed for Georgetown. While the protests were successful in derailing the plans of the City Council, with little or no help from the Government, there was also a legal element. Two cases were filed. One has been heard in which the Court ruled that the bylaws were not lawfully promulgated by the Minister. This means that before the parking meter system can be reintroduced and fees charged, the bylaws have to be lawfully put in place by the Minister.
The pacu is a fish related to the pirhana. The sweet water pacu has fearsome, human-like, teeth. However, unlike the pirhana, it feeds principally on nuts, fruit, insects and small fish. Its love for ‘nuts’ is not related to its rumoured taste for men’s testicles. It appears that this rumour is not true. The salt water pacu, which has no teeth and no resemblance, is a popular dish in Guyana.
There is another meaning of ‘pacu.’ It refers to a person who can be easily deceived. Sniffing out for a quick buck, some foreigners were led to believe that Guyanese are a bunch of pacus. They are finding out differently.
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.