Feb 12, 2017 Features / Columnists, My Column adam harris


Controversies are never far away. So too is blame. It is amazing how some things become political issues when in the first instance these things involved people who are for all intents and purposes, relatively independent.
At issue here is the parking meter. City Hall and Smart City Solutions combined to introduce parking meters in the city. One argument is that no other Caribbean country has parking meters, so there was no need for these instruments in Guyana.
Then came another argument. This one states that the parking meters in certain parts of the city would hamper business, because motorists would not park and shop if they have to feed the parking meter. Indeed, Kaieteur News tested this latest contention and found that there were business places that stated the exact opposite.
To my mind, if someone wants to buy something he may find the parking meters a bit of an imposition, since he would be asked to fork out $114 for half hour parking. I also found that many people on Regent Street were paying $500 to park on a lot, even if they spent ten minutes in a nearby store. That parking lot is often full. Some of the people who complain would use that parking lot whenever they are in the vicinity.
I can understand the burden for people who work in a certain area being asked to fork out $1,600 each day they go to work, simply because they have to park outside their places of work. One of my daughters told me that she parks outside the parking meter zone and takes a bus to work. That is an unnecessary imposition.
The places of employment should work something out with City Hall as the teachers at certain schools did.
More recently, the issue became political, because people claimed that the government was at fault for having City Hall impose the parking meters on a society where parking is often haphazard.
President David Granger has said repeatedly that City Hall, under the new local government dispensation is autonomous. The previous administration treated City Hall as though it was another Government department. The council was not allowed to function as it should.
I have been to New York and I can say without fear of contradiction that New York City is autonomous. It has its police force that is answerable only to the city. The Police Commissioner is appointed by the city and revenues accrue to the coffers of the city.
People have heard of the power of the Mayor. When a man from the Dominican Republic was detained by immigration authorities, the then Mayor Rudy Giuliani intervened and got the man released. The federal administration could do nothing.
So it is that Georgetown should operate without political dictation but the society, being accustomed to political control at every level, sees the council as an arm of the government and therefore subjected to Government control. People now say that the actions of City Hall will determine their vote at the national level.
I went to a commercial bank to transact some business and I had to use the parking meter. Paying $116 then was not an imposition. Similarly, people who insist on walking with large sums of money cannot say that they will park some distance away and after leaving the bank, walk some distance to their vehicle. Even if they are to take a taxi, they would pay at least $500, much more than the parking meter would demand.
What was unfortunate was that the council did not engage the people to ascertain how they would react. I do know that we as a people are reluctant to pay for many things. We watch the foreign television programmes for free. We see cricket for free. I remember when the then President Bharrat Jagdeo had to dig into the national coffers to pay for the rights to have cricket broadcast. We then saw the games for free.
In the other Caribbean countries this is not the case. We see Young and the Restless as it is being broadcast, but Trinidad must wait to see the episodes sometime later. The people there accept this fact. They enter hogs’ heaven when they come to Guyana.
In the developed world parking meters are so pervasive that people can do nothing but use them unless they want to park some distance away and walk to their destination. Try being inebriated and do the same thing after a night at the club.
I was in Canada when my brother visited me. He parked on the streets and fed the meter. It so happened that he overstayed the limit and got a ticket that was more than ten times what the meter would have charged.
In all fairness to the council, the parking nightmare has disappeared for now because people avoid the meters. Some of us give beggars more than the meter would charge for half hour. We go to clubs and pay ten times what we would pay if we were to drink at some ordinary bar. Yet we find the parking meter something to protest against.
My problem is that the council has been charging the same rate that operates in New York when we do not earn what the Americans earn. The fee is too high for this country. Many have agreed with me and it seems as if City Hall is listening.
There has been one sordid episode in all this. People protested the parking meters and one man abused them. He said that they were among the low life—sons and daughters of slaves and indentured immigrants. He himself is the descendant of a slave and God knows what else.
This is a man I happened to know for some four decades. He grew up poor, went to America, got into trouble with the law and ended up in jail and somehow found himself with the parking meter people. He claims that he stands by his comments and I will take him on.
Smart City Solutions to its credit disassociated itself from the utterances of this man. It is a wonder that the company still associates with him and could feel the backlash. But for now while there is money in the parking meter system, the council should revert to the old adage; a slow cent is better than a quick dollar. Lower the rates and let us all be happy.