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.
The Chronicle’s obscene calumny against Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh, over several months and getting worse, its contempt of court and the Government’s intimidation of the Judiciary have become deeply troubling. The Chancellor was publicly warned to go on pre-retirement leave and not to hear any ‘political’ cases. Suspicion was expressed that he would start a case and postpone it beyond his retirement date so as to seek to extend his term of office.
What is worse is that a lawyer, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who has responsibility for information and the power to stop the Chronicle since it started its disgraceful campaign several weeks ago, has allowed it to continue. The only conclusion is that the Chronicle’s rampage against the Chancellor, and subversion of the Judiciary, is official Government policy.
Three of the four dailies on Friday headlined the second oil find by ExxonMobil at a well called Payara-1. Past predictions about the presence of petroleum deposits in off-shore Guyana were confirmed when ExxonMobil’s announced its world class discovery, the largest for 2016, at its Liza well. If the Payara-1 turns out to be large, then the predictions of much greater deposits in the area could be accurate and much more oil could be found.
The amount of petroleum deposits that have already been found is enough to transform Guyana. But somehow Guyanese do not yet appear to be impressed. Casual conversations with Guyanese suggest that the cynicism that has developed from decades of promises based on Guyana’s agricultural potential, that Guyana could become the bread basket of the Caribbean and Guyana’s failure to take off economically, continues to exist. When told about the prospect of oil wealth for Guyana, and what it could mean for the future, many Guyanese are dismissive and unbelieving.
The truth is that Guyana would be transformed and we need to choose how. It would not happen overnight, of course, but by 2025 Guyanese would be feeling the impact of the oil income, which would continually increase. The Government appears to be making preparations to establish the legal framework and institutional mechanisms. There is no evidence that it is making any effort to reach out to the Opposition to build consensus from the earliest stage. If the Government wants political and national consensus going forward, it needs to start consultations with the Opposition early or face the possibility of a perennially contentious situation for our oil industry. Former Minister of Energy of Trinidad and Tobago, Kevin Ramnarine, speaking in Guyana recently, urged the establishment of a national oil and gas company to manage the oil industry, whose leadership should be insulated from politics. While this is easier said than done, it can be accomplished if the effort starts now.
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.