– Ralph Ramkarran, Govt Adviser question dealBy Devina Samaroo and Edward LayneChaos, confusion and controversy have completely replaced the short-lived excitement which initiallyDirector of NPS and SCS, Kamau Cushsurrounded the city parking meter project, as investigations by Guyana Times of National Parking Systems (NPS) and Smart City Solutions (SCS) leave more questions than answers.Director of NPS and SCS, Kamau Cush, during an interview with Guyana Times, insisted that his companies are legitimate and have been doing business on the international scene for a number of years.He claimed 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 checks on search engine www.whois.net revealed that the NPS’s website (http://npsgreatcities.com/) was registered on April 8, 2016 through www.godaddy.com–a website hosting company in the US.This was about the same time fresh discussions about the installation of parking meters in Georgetown surfaced.Key stakeholders are raising concerns over the possibility of the undertaking being a shady deal aimed at exploiting the local populace.The project was announced recently by the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) of Georgetown as an innovative initiative to ease congestion in the city and aid in generating more revenue.However, 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.Ramkarran’s sentiments supports the assertions of Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan and Government Advisor Ruel Johnson, both of whom believe that the lack of transparency on the project is a reflection of poor governance and the project must be halted immediately.No consultationsFirstly, Ramkarran knocked the City Council for moving ahead with a project of such magnitude without holding proper consultations with all stakeholders expected to be affected.“Owners of motor vehicles who park them on the roads in Georgetown, either for long or short periods, while at work or for any other purpose, except residential, have not been consulted. Since a financial burden is to be imposed on these persons, one would have thought that both democratic principles and respect for the public that is to be burdened by the imposition would dictate that prior to the implementation of the decision to install parking meters, there would have been adequate consultation,” he posited.Ramkarran reminded that the election of the City Council to office did not give it a right to unilaterally exercise authority where the expectation existed that consultation would take place or where the public had a right to be heard, if its interests were to be affected.More so, he called out the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition for keeping this plan a secret from its constituents during the campaign trail, for “obvious reasons”.“Coming so soon after the elections, this decision to install parking meters was clearly on APNU/AFC’s agenda prior to the elections. During the elections, APNU/AFC contestants had ample opportunity to inform the residents of Georgetown that parking meters were on the agenda, but they kept this plot a secret for obvious reasons,” Ramkarran penned.LocationsThe selective locations for the installation of the parking meters are another matter of concern for the former House Speaker and well-respected Senior Counsel.The streets in which the meters are to be installed are Avenue of the Republic, Regent Street, Robb Street, Camp Street, Main Street, Brickdam, Water Street, America Street and Church Street.Contending that this decision should be reconsidered, Ramkarran pointed out that it was simply unfair for employees who park on those streets to have to pay exorbitant amounts while other employees are somewhat exempt.“Why are specific streets selected? For example, why Church Street and not North Road? What answer would the City Council give to the person who is employed in Church Street who asks why he or she has to pay for eight hours of parking while the North Road employee has to pay nothing?” Ramkarran explained.ExploitationRamkarran 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 percent 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.Moreover, minibus and taxi operators will be expected to pay $100 every time they park in their respective parks.Those employees who park outside their offices for eight hours per day will end up paying roughly $80,000 every month.AlternativesRamkarran said if the City Council wanted to tax the use of motor vehicles, it could consider alternatives like imposing a tax on taxis and minibuses which use the city roads as a major and free resource for their business through which they profit considerably.He also suggested that the taxes on domestic properties be increased after being revalued and the percentage of taxes chargeable adjusted downwards so that the increase would be affordable.“Taxes for domestic properties have not been increased for decades and are ridiculously low,” he stated.ContractsFurthermore, Ramkarran noted that there appeared to be a mass of confusion in the City Council about the awarding of the contracts, with one contract being given to one company since 1996 while another was made with another company sometime in 2007.Importantly, Ramkarran argued that it was worrying that no tender was done before contracts were awarded.City Council had announced that the contract had been awarded to the company with which it had entered into agreement since 1996 – NPS, leaving the other company on the sidelines.The project, being undertaken by NPS, will be done in a joint venture with SCS.However, recently, concerns have been raised over the legitimacy of these companies since there appeared to be scant evidence available about their existence.Deputy Mayor Duncan claimed he was provided with little information about the companies and, therefore, was forced to resort to independent research to discover more about them.But, in his research, Duncan said he found nothing to substantiate the legitimacy of the companies.“In my research, I have not found any company by the name ‘Smart City Solutions’ associated with parking meter systems, in any of the places the company is purporting to have done business like Panama…There is no evidence that such a company actually exists,” Duncan highlighted in a Facebook post on Saturday.The following day, Johnson, who is the Cultural Policy Adviser to the Minister of Education, endorsed the views expressed by the Deputy Mayor.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.In a direct message to the governing Administration, Johnson said, “Dear coalition government, you cannot have what for all purposes seems a sham company control a critical revenue system in the capital for decades to come – indeed 10 seconds would mean that this indecency would have parked itself on the city’s potential development for too long.”The parking meter project is earmarked for completion in September.