To add to the controversy brewing over the implementation of the parking meter system in the city, the rollout appears to be on hold, at least for several days, after the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) made a late submission of by-laws to Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan for approval, who in turn, announced that the review process would take about two days.
The parking meter by-laws were approved back in December 2016; however, it is clear that the M&CC failed to apply to the Communities Minister for approval. What is worse is that Smart City Solutions Inc (SCSI), in the media, admitted that it, at the eleventh hour, was seeking clarification on the matter. The much-dreaded and controversial project was in fact supposed to be operational from this week, what an embarrassment on the part of the City Hall and Smart City Solutions to have overlooked this very important step, although SCSI was quick to add that the company would do nothing in violation of the law.
For the majority of the population, it was the answer to their prayers. The M&CC was bent on proceeding with the controversial parking meter project despite calls from several stakeholders for the authorities to relook at the situation or possibly scrap the contract altogether. Over the past few months, several commentators, politicians and ordinary citizens alike have expressed concerns regarding the total lack of transparency surrounding the project. More particularly, questions were raised regarding the legitimacy of the company contracted, the fact that no prior public consultations were held with stakeholders, and the overall secrecy surrounding the undertaking.
Even the Deputy Mayor had raised questions in relation to the contractor, cost, and the overall transparency of the project and had signalled his non-support for the initiative, and again, quite recently and publicly, he said that the city was not ready for parking meters. What’s more, he also raised concerns as to why the feasibility study, which was to be carried out by SCSI, was not released to the public. In response, the SCSI spokesman said that the feasibility study was in fact completed and was in the possession of the M&CC.
The absence of the feasibility study was a major concern with the Finance Ministry team which reviewed the parking meter contract. One of the concerns was the fact that there was uncertainty about how aspects of the contract, including the fees, were arrived at. The findings of this study would have given the public some insight into critical aspects of the project.
Among the concerns raised about the contract are the division of profits, the exorbitant amount being charged for parking, the development, as well as the terms of the agreement, and the credibility of the company undertaking the initiative.
The parliamentary Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had strongly criticised the imposition of this extra financial expense on the public, especially in light of the fact that there were absolutely no consultations on the matter beforehand.
Despite the flaws highlighted in the contract, Government discovered nothing illegal and gave the green light for the commencement of the project once certain recommendations were implemented. This included a reduced fee for parking, which was eventually changed in the contract.
The concerns over the project mounted, and the first Vice President of Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI), Christopher Ram, weighed in and said that it was very troubling indeed that for a project of such magnitude, information was hardly available.
Additionally, commentator and transparency advocate Ramon Gaskin had described the entire controversy as “very, very fishy”, stating that the only information available was what was in the press.
Also, former Speaker of the National Assembly and commentator, Ralph Ramkarran had said the undertaking seemed to be nothing but a “get-rich-quick scheme”, given the capricious and tenuous strategies and justifications provided for some aspects of the project.
It is no secret that citizens are already burdened with so many expenses in an already troubled economy; hence, any new initiative which would see them spending more will certainly have to be properly explained and justified. It certainly begs the question, why has this project has been foisted on the populace?