Parking meter burden
The special statutory meeting convened on Monday by the Mayor & Councillors of the City of Georgetown to discuss issues regarding the parking meter contract did not yield much result, as councillors could not agree on whether or not to adhere to Central Government’s advice to suspend the parking meter project.
Via letter late last week, Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan had directed the Mayor and City Council to have the by-laws governing operation of the parking meters suspended for a three-month period, pending review. However, he received a letter from Town Clerk Royston King advising that such a suspension would constitute a breach of contract.
The councillors were expected to vote on the Minister’s request at this special statutory meeting, which was chaired by Acting Mayor and substantive Deputy Mayor, Sherod Duncan, on Monday. However, tensions rose as councillors cross-talked and heckled each other.
Councillors attached to A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) moved to have decision on the Minister’s request postponed, since, according to them, the council needed time to study the legal advice received in regard to the Bulkan order. APNU Councillor Heston Bostwick moved a motion to this end: “…thereafter, we would be in a better legal frame of mind to determine the way forward.”
The final tally after two rounds of voting was 17 councillors in favour of the motion, while seven were against. Two abstained from voting.
Counsel representing City Hall, Attorney-at-Law Roger Yearwood, in his legal interpretation, said that before issuing his order on March 17, 2017, the Minister had failed to hold an inquiry. “The Act contemplates that an inquiry must be held by the Minister in order to establish that the Council is in default in the performance of any duty imposed on it. This inquiry naturally necessitates a hearing, at which the Council must be afforded an opportunity to be heard, in accordance with the rules of natural justice, which militates against a person being condemned without being afforded an opportunity to be heard in his own defense,” the document stated.
The attorney further asserted that if the Mayor and City Council adheres to the Minister’s directive, a breach of contract with the parking meter contractors, Smart City Solutions, would result, and this could prove to be very costly for the City.
Another Councillor, Khane Sharma, moved a motion to have the motions brushed aside, since, according to him, the order from the Minister was clear. This suggestion resulted in several councillors heckling their colleague. However, his motion was favoured by six, while 14 were against it, and seven abstained.
As a two-hour debate continued into Councillor Bostwick’s motion, with many interruptions from the councillors, a visibly annoyed Duncan adjourned the meeting, noting that he does not see himself chairing another meeting of this nature, and advised the councillors to utilize the period they have until the next statutory meeting to review the legal advice. Thus the meeting was adjourned to next Monday, when incumbent Mayor Patricia Chase Green would have returned from an overseas trip.
Since its rollout in late January, the parking meter project has attracted widespread criticism. After it had initially been rolled out and had been the subject of numerous criticisms from civil society, the business community and from citizens, the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had sought to have the matter debated in Parliament. However, APNU/AFC refused to support the parliamentary Opposition’s request to have the contentious enterprise debated. However, after several protests had been mounted in the capital city, Cabinet recommended a three-month suspension pending a review.
And as City Council operatives were considering whether or not to follow the minister’s orders, a few of the Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) protestors braved the weather to sound the clarion call that City Hall must revoke the contract.
Additionally, on Monday, the High Court case regarding the legality of the project was heard in chambers by Justice Brassington Reynolds. At those proceedings, by way of the judge’s consent, Mexican company Smart City Solutions was added as a respondent in the Mohendra Arjune legal challenge against the contract.
Arjune’s attorney, Kamal Ramkarran, has the next several days to file an affidavit in reply to SCS and another affidavit in defence filed by Town Clerk Royston King. The matter will again be heard on April 10 at 09:15, for reports and submissions.