Peaceful City Protests: – Call for a COI Into City Hall

Getting It Right By Dr.Bheri Sygmond Ramsaran

The now customary but expanding peaceful protesters have been gathering outside City Hall on a once weekly basis. A significant number carry placards. At its peak, the peaceful number some 400 citizens. The characteristics of the gathering, which I noted in previous editions, continue to remain encouragingly constant. It is pellucidly multi-ethnic, with women at times out numbering men and reflective of the generational spread of our population. However, it would be true to say that more women are participating as each week passes.

Social media, skillfully used by the Movement Against Parking Meters, continues to be the main pillar of mobilization and nurturing of the expanding group of peaceful protestors. These are the two features that stand out — the representative nature of the participants and their effective use of social media. This is the first recorded mass event in Guyana so effectively initiated and sustained by the use of social media.

The gatherings seem to have dug in for the long haul. This does not bode well for the small cabal running City Hall. The peaceful protesters are becoming accustomed to each other and quick successive victories over the Mayer and City Hall.

The power of peaceful protest saw in quick succession the decision to reduce the parking fee cost, then the decision to stop “clamping” offending vehicles and shortly afterwards the abandoning of any attempt at enforcement. The next quick victory came following the initiation of legal action against the acuity in the courts.
The Court put a conclusive end to the operating of the already installed meetings.

Mayor threatens to close shops daily in city by 4:30pm
Buoyed by these initial quick and substantial victories, the peaceful protestors surged to new heights. This is reflected in the comments heard among them while peacefully protesting outside City Hall and over the live call-in shows on Radio and TV. There are now discussions on corruption at “City Hall”, on Municipal elections, and the obvious need for a COI into the operations of the Mayor and City Council.

This definitely doesn’t look well for the Lady Mayor!

No sir!

The Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) is growing not only quantitatively, but more significantly it is also growing qualitatively.

This last protest exercise saw open discussion of the other alleged transgressions of the Mayor and City Council, especially in the management of the financial business of the City. There were also strident calls among some of the protestors for accountability and transparency.

This ominous turn of events (for the Mayor) is most likely prompted by the quick successes popular victories just mentioned accompanied by the continuing threats and high-handed governance style of City Hall.

The latest one is a threat by Mayor Chase-Green to shut the stores in the commercial areas in the City at 4:30 pm on week days and by 12:30 on Saturdays. This new threat, apparently, is in keeping with certain long forgotten archaic colonial by-laws. The business sector, especially, sees this threat as a counter attack by the Mayor in retaliation for the quick victories won by the peaceful protesters with the tacit support of the business class.

The city commercial sector is now really up in arms against the Mayor, who has decided to mount her high horse. Any attempt to close the city commercial areas by 4:30 pm is madness and will be vigorously resisted by the business men and women.

In this battle, they will definitely be supported by city and other residents who conduct shopping activities after a hard day’s work in government offices or various entities of the private sector. The Mayor just put her foot into her mouth.

Commission of Inquiry into City Hall
The call for a COI (Commission of Inquiry) may be a timely popular demand. The Auditor General (AG), Mr. Deodat Sharma, had recently called for such a review or audit of the City. It is ironical that the PNC/APNU+AFC Administration, which launched a barrage of expensive COIs immediately on acceding to Office, has not taken notice. This popular perception — fused with that of the AG of irregularities and transgression at City Hall  — seems to finally have taken hold. But it took the smaller victories of the MAPM to bring us to this realization of the gross mismanagement and corruption at City Hall.

Many things are not right at City Hall and the COI will no doubt delve into such matters as:
1.  Which businesses and private citizens were granted generous “write offs” of outstanding rates and taxes?

2. Who are the proprietors of these businesses? And how much each was granted as “write off”

3. How much was the total sum and for what length of time were they outstanding?

4. How many regular workers are employed by the Council for cleaning and sanitation of the City are on its payroll? How many of them actually exist?? Many citizens and especially many among the weekly protesters think that the City Hall labour force is inflated.

5. How many ADDITIONAL contract workers were employed to execute the recent cleanup campaign alongside the existing M&CC regular employees?

6. What happened to the hefty donation to the City by the Chinese Government for city enhancement?

7. What happened to the large sum of money (half a billion dollars) given by the PPP/C Government to City Hall for a massive cleanup campaign ?

But the Granger/Nagamootoo government seems not to have a stomach for this COI, which is begging to be done. This demand for a COI into a City Hall is gaining momentum among the members and supporters of the MAPM. It will grow, especially as the Movement gains confidence by more and more successful peaceful protests.
The use of COIs by the Granger/Nagamootoo Government as a which-hunting tool will return to haunt them.

Conclusion
The peaceful protest of aggrieved citizens against the imposition of parking meters has spawned a popular Movement. This movement is growing and seems to be pushing up mature, level-headed and sustained leadership. The movement is growing in confidence. Its confidence – born of several quick significant victories – has led it to a  qualitatively higher level.

The movement will be a thorn in the side of the Mayor and City Council for a long time to come.

The demand for a Commission of Inquiry into the functioning of City Hall is looming.