City Hall could be levied on if Guyana loses US$100M parking meter lawsuit – Nandlall
…defends approval of US$3M to pay int’l law firm
…M&CC officials to be investigated for fraud
With the historic Georgetown City Hall at risk of being levied on if Guyana loses the US$100 million lawsuit brought by international company, Smart City Solutions (SCS) over the terminated parking meter project, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, is standing by his request for US$3 million to pay an international law firm to represent the country’s interest.
The Mayor and City Council (M&CC) of Georgetown had entered into a contract with the Mexican company under the previous A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) Government in 2016 for the installation of parking meters in the capital city.
With the M&CC, under the then mayorship of Patricia Chase-Green and then Town Clerk Royston King failing to implement the parking meter project, SCS is now suing the Guyana Government through the Washington, DC-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)—an arbitration institution established by the World Bank Group to address legal dispute resolution and conciliation between international investors and States.
During last Monday’s sitting of the National Assembly, the Attorney General requested $100 million in supplementary funds for the Legal Affairs Ministry. Of the entire sum approved by the House, US$3 million will be made as a deposit towards those legal fees. The legal fees have attracted many public criticisms, with persons accusing the Government of wasting taxpayers’ money. But this is far from the truth, Nandlall has clarified, noting that while the APNU/AFC which made the reckless decision is out of office, his Government must defend Guyana.
During a recent interview with the Department of Public Information (DPI), he disclosed that the law firm representing Guyana in the US$100 million lawsuit, Foley Hoag and Associates, “is of very high international standing”. According to him, the Washington law firm is also leading Guyana’s legal team in the border dispute case with Venezuela at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Best legal representation
“You would recall that no qualms were expressed in relation to that matter [border case] when that firm was retained…Now, this [$100 million lawsuit] may not be a case as important as that [border dispute] but it is an equally important case for the State of Guyana. As a Government, we can’t take the approach that because this transaction was entered into by the previous Government due to their incompetence and corrupt practices, that we can abandon the State of Guyana and don’t represent Guyana’s best interest; we can’t afford to take such a position…,” said Nandlall.
“…and as far and so long that I am Attorney General, I will ensure that Guyana receives the best legal representation at every forum,” he assured, adding that citizens “deserve no less”.
Foley Hoag and Associates, he pointed out, “has a reputational record before tribunals of that type that would be comparable with any other law firm in any part of the world.”
Given the serious nature of the lawsuit, Nandlall made it clear that the Government will not leave the incompetent Georgetown M&CC to handle the case, because should SCS win, the company can levy on City Hall.
Further, the Senior Counsel explained that the record and other evidential material relating to the claim show that the circumstances and the conduct governing the execution of the parking meter project contract by members of the M&CC can attract criminal liability.
“The requisite procedures laid down in the law under the Mayor and City Council Act and regulations and bylaws were clearly not complied with. A few persons, in my humble view, committed fraud upon the Council by entering into this transaction without the requisite endorsements as mandated by law… The Criminal Investigation Department is being activated and a criminal investigation will now be launched into that matter,” he said.
The parking meters were active in January 2017, but this was met with strong resistance from the then PPP/C Opposition, private sector bodies, and ordinary citizens, who formed an organisation called Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) – which went on to hold some of the largest non-political protests ever seen in the city.
Amid public pressure, the then APNU/AFC Government finally intervened and suspended the bylaws which paved the way for the implementation of metered parking, thus effectively halting the parking meter project. The project has since remained stalled.
Meanwhile, in January 2018, a ‘Parking Meter Renegotiation Committee’ at City Hall proposed a reduction in the parking fee from $500 per hour to $150 per hour.
Three months later, the then City Council approved amendments to the bylaws and had even appeared before the then coalition Cabinet to discuss the changes to the contract, but the then Government never gave the green light for the project to recommence.
However, a new City Council was elected later that year, and current Mayor Ubraj Narine had told this publication back in April 2019 that he was in no rush to reintroduce the initiative.
Although the contract had already been renegotiated, the Mayor also indicated that he would still need to further renegotiate with the investors before moving to reintroduce the project. (G1)