Christopher Ram bemoans lack of disclosure

Parking meter fiasco

… “It’s very, very fishy” – Ramon Gaskin

By Edward Layne

Pressure is mounting on the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) to scrap the highly-secretive and controversial parking meter contract it has inked with National Parking Systems/Smart City Solutions, to hold consultations and then go to public tender in the interest of accountability and transparency.

Economist Ramon Gaskin
Economist Ramon Gaskin
Mayor Mayor Patricia Chase Green inspects a parking meter in Mexico City
Mayor Mayor Patricia Chase Green inspects a parking meter in Mexico City

Former First Vice President of Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) and Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram said “it’s very troubling indeed,” that for a project of such magnitude, information is hardly available.
Ram, in an interview with Guyana Times on Wednesday said that transparency must be the hallmark of the project.
He lambasted the M&CC for failing to following proper public procurement procedures for the multimillion-dollar parking meter project, noting that it is not a project which the Council can just walk in and walk out of it”.
“Clearly this should have been an open tender process. In fact, even before you go to that, maybe you invite interested parties having expression of interest you, then see detailed proposal and between the two, you do some due diligence,” Ram stated, adding that “if Local Government Elections is to mean anything and if local democracy is to mean anything, then its clear that the people’s representatives must have a say in the decision of how their rates and taxes are being expended.”
He recommended that the process be abandoned and a fresh process be undertaken in keeping with the principles of transparency and accountability.
Meanwhile, independent commentator and transparency advocate Ramon Gaskin described the entire controversy as “very very fishy”.
Gaskin, a trained economist, told this publication on Wednesday that there is hardly anything that was made public on the project, save and except for a few persons on the City Council.
“The only information that is available is what’s in the press… nobody has seen any contract of anything. The whole thing as my friends said has the smell of unrefrigerated fish. The whole think sounds very funny, not transparent, it didn’t go to tender, it’s a big problem. It’s very, very fishy,” he remarked.
Gaskin also criticised the highly secretive Mexican trip which Georgetown Mayor Patricia Chase Green, Councillors Junior Garrett and Oscar Clarke, along with Town Clerk Royston are current on as a “gallivant”.
“Chase Green and all of them gone to Mexico for something, to gallivant, nobody knows. I don’t think the Councillors were even told about this trip to Mexico, Oscar Clarke and all of them,” he remarked.
The economist, like Ram, is recommending that the Council abandon the current project and start a new process that is open and transparent. “Scrap all of that and cancel all of that and start over. They have to scrap it and start over,” Gaskin recommended.
On Sunday last, former Speaker of the National Assembly and commentator Ralph Ramkarran said the undertaking seems to be nothing but a “get-rich-quick scheme”, given the capricious and tenuous strategies and justifications provided for some aspects of the project.
In his weekly blog “The Conversation Tree”, Ramkarran outlined a number of issues in relation to the project and even suggested alternatives that the M&CC could explore before moving ahead with the contentious parking meter plan.
Among the issues he outlined are lack of consultation with stakeholders including those who will be affected the proposed location of the meters which is deemed unfair and exploitative
Ramkarran also contended that the fact the contractor would be taking 80 per cent of the revenue earned from these meters while the City Council would cash in on 20 per cent was extremely worrying.
“This smells very much like a get-rich-quick scheme to exploit owners of motor vehicles, many of whom are regular working people, for the substantial benefit of the 80 per cent private contractor(s) and not the City Council,” he stated.
Reports indicate that some 300 parking meters will be installed across the City, charging $125 every 15 minutes for an expected yearly income of approximately $100 million to $200 million.
He also expressed concerns over the lack of any tendering process.
Cultural Policy Advisor to the Education Minister Ruel Johnson also criticised the manner in which the project was being executed. In his Facebook post, Johnson posited, “Why on earth would any sane person interested in good governance want this deal to go through? And while I applaud Sherod Duncan, who has been completely reticent on many issues, for speaking out coherently on this one, where are the voices of the other Councillors on this? Even if there were a majority in favour, there has to be a reasonable minority against this.”
Johnson also called on the public to use this opportunity to hold the Government accountable and demand better governance. The short-lived excitement of the parking meter project was eclipsed by controversy and accusations of corruption after City Councillors, including Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan refused to endorse the project on the grounds that the Council was not provided with enough information on the project and its contractor, including the contract with the Council inked with National Parking Systems/Smart City Solutions to install and operate the meters. There are also questions about the companies’ track record in parking meter installation.
Cush has been arguing that his companies have worked in Panama, Argentina, Peru and Mexico City among others; however, checks by this publication in these locations turned up empty as there is no mention of either company.
Further, the company’s website, was registered on April 8, 2016, about the same time fresh discussions about the installation of parking meters in Georgetown surfaced. There are also concerns that the company provided a false address for its headquarters.
Key stakeholders are raising concerns over the possibility of the undertaking being a shady deal aimed at exploiting the local populace.