by Vidyaratha Kissoon
“Look over deh, is like a different country, look how over dis side nice and clear and orderly, look over deh is share madness, is a different country.”
The bus was in the traffic light line on Regent Street in the parking meter zone.
The bus conductor and driver were talking about the chaos over the Camp Street border from the empty parking lots in the parking meter zone .
The bus conductor had an American /British accent which strengthened every time he talked about the Guyanese and their love for lawlessness and which faded every time he cussed Jagdeo.
It has been fascinating- random coolie man talking to random black people about parking meters. The response is about what the PPP did , who didn’t protest what the PPP did and talking about how we accustomed to dirt and lawlessness and don’t want order or to give Granger a chance.
A taxi driver in Bourda Market shouted ‘taxi taxi’.. and I said..’oh shoots man, I taut you going and protest’ as other taxi drivers have done.
The man laughed and said.. “I walk wid Hoyte fuh 52 days.. why no protest when Bharat bring in 16% VAT.. and de VAT never went down until now.. protest doan bring nuttin” .
The man’s memory might have been mixed up Mr Hoyte died in 2002, the VAT burden started in 2007 but memories tend to get mixed up when people have to be preoccupied with the present.
The bus conductor with the foreign accent said that the Americans and the British tax everything. ‘That is how you get development’.. I said but ow man, light and water and utilities?
And the man said the British have VAT on electricity and gas and “nobody aint protest dat”.
I ask the conductor what about the transparency and the governance in the design of the system and the man asked me why I didn’t stop the Marriott Hotel.
Many of slap-and-strip-bheri’s people are horrified at the injustice of the parking meter contract while having no problems with bheri and his comrades for their dealings with Marriott, Bai Shin Lan, Roger Khan and others.
The conductor’s tirade continued through the lawless different country.
His rage was like so many of the PNC supporters on Facebook , in different tones, about where were the protesters against Jagdeo and so on and how the Government is good for allowing the protests and how tear gas and bullets and who get mouth and so now as during PPP time.
I used to hear this during PPP time too how I get mouth and so which I didn’t have during PNC time.
Though of course tear gas shy during Burnham time and horse guard beat people and Father Darke get kill trying to record a protest .
I wanted to ask some of the PNC supporters where they were during many of the recent protests against the super salaries and against their representative who was accused of child molestation.
But that is how movements and things get barely started and broken up.. this throwing stones of who didn’t protest what and why they didn’t protest then and so and who can’t put their name to things because where they working and the kind of work the do and so.
I found myself gawking at the beautiful photographs of the protests. Some of Guyana’s finest photographers covered the parking meter protests and there were many striking portraits.
I got distracted from the messages of the protest and my mouth hung open at the messengers as I went Wow wow dis ting really bodering people.
The Chronicle described the protesters – “prominent Guyanese including political activists, lawyers and businessmen”.
Lawyers who were not go on the road to protest with Courtney Crum Ewing against the chatree coolie Attorney General it seems were brought out to the streets by the horrors and injustice of the parking meter contract.
Lawyers which included according to Demerara Waves, former Speaker of the National Assembly , Ralph Ramkarran holding one of the eloquent placards with language which referred to Green Monsters which might or might not have been referring to the Mayor of Georgetown.
In 2010, I resigned from the Rights of the Child Commission.,
I never received an acknowledgement of that resignation from the former Speaker. I understand that for some time after my name remained on the list of people who were eligible for stipends.
The incomparable monstrosity of the parking meter contract seems to be a breaking point for those who were never on the lunatic fringe.
Businessmen (and women?) who did not attend the protests against child sexual abuse or against any of the social justice issues were mobilised by the 80% to a business entity for 49 years.
Businessmen who did not join with the vendors who were moved during the Jubilee last year and then moved back afterwards. The vendors probably did not ask or did not know to use social media to generate support.
Parking meters and clamps though, provided the tipping point.
The protest on Thursday 9 Feb it seems was the “Tsunami” which President Granger could not find against Minister Volda Lawrence whose colleague on the City Council is accused of child sexual abuse and whose party and colleagues are defending the parking meter contract .
The tsunami which moved him to meet with this PNC colleagues – the Mayor and the Minister of Communities – to see if at least, the prices could be reduced which it seems as far as the PNC would go rather than scrapping the contract and starting over again.
My pettiness and jealousy that none of the protests I have participated in ever got any attention like the parking meter protests, or that the protests never had anybody described as prominent Guyanese, or never inspired professional photographers to take beautiful pictures – cannot diminish the marvel at the possibility of a different country.
A man who lived in the USA said that parking meters deh about long and that one of his police instructors had told him that if you afford a car, you can afford the US25 cents to pay the parking meter.
Parking meters have also been described as modern for many who are for for the parking meter contract.
A WPA member said that the Parking Meters are part of the Economic Recovery Programme started by Desmond Hoyte , the move to neoliberalism, capitalism , baishalin-ism, marriot-ism and other free market -isms from the failed socialism experiment.
The same day as the protests, the Bank of Guyana for the first time since 1989 had to impose ‘regulations’ on the foreign exchange market. The Bank of Guyana also had to be negotiating with the foreign company for free parking for their employees.
There are signs that Guyana’s free market experiments seem to be failing like how the socialist experiment failed.
Who knows how the parking meter company is going to take its 80% out of Guyana if the foreign exchange dries up – would they accept the equivalent US dollars in rice or plantain chips or cassava bread?
A Stabroek News report raises up Burnham’s jumbie in relation to the insistence by the President of Oilfields Workers Union of the Trinidad & Tobago that state enterprises should remain state owned. The report invoked Burnham’s nationalisation of the private entities.. all at a time when Burnham’s party was standing by the privatisation of the city space.
The Guyana Post Office Corporation on the same day of the massive protest also announced its venture into online buying , and with indications that foreign exchange might be in short supply, there is something missing that perhaps now is the time to talk about online selling as well.
It is time to imagine a different country where it should be easy for citizens to accept payments in foreign currency online as it is to make foreign currency payments.
Some of the people against the parking meters asked for boycott of businesses selling the cards. The Guyana Post Office is selling the cards and the Bourda Post Office had a sticker “I support the Parking Meter’ on the public notice board.
As with so many things, it is not so easy to mark boundaries and build walls and mark lines and separate from monstrosities and those that nurture them. Paying too much for parking is not a big deal as say paying salaries for those who have contempt for women and those who are the subject of unresolved allegations of child abuse.
Some of the protesters were clear that they want the contract withdrawn.
Some said that they are not against parking meters – not really Against Parking Meters as such,- while others have said that Guyana is not ready and are in the purest sense against Parking Meters no matter how transparent the process.
Some people, a few who have been in other protests with the lunatic fringe , have said that these protests are for transparency and good governance.
Good governance which includes active participation of citizens and fair procurement procedures.
Participation which is about Article 13 of the Constitution .
Article 13 of the Constitution of Guyana states that: “The principal objective of the political system of the state is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organizations in the management and decision making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision making that directly affect their wellbeing.”
The organisers did phenomenal work in organising people to sing the National Anthem outside the City Hall in the hot sun.
Thankfully none of the protests I have been part of included the National Anthem and maybe that is why none of the Presidents – Jagdeo, Ramotar or Granger- bothered with the protests.
There is a awesome slickness in the use of media, and in the mobilisation of people off of Facebook and onto the streets.
Hopefully this taste of protest is one which lingers and leaves the people keen to do more to get the government to listen .
There is wonderful potential for the Movement against Parking Meters to evolve into the Movement for Transformation of Governance, and for that movement to include the citizen education, and which moves beyond PNC and PPP partisanship to deal with the possibly hard(er) times ahead if the increasing prices and the wavering foreign currency rates are anything to go by.
The Movement which recognises that the implementation of this parking meter contract is nurtured by the same unjust system which favours winners of elections and which allows people who have been accused of the abuse of women and children to be nominated and elected for public office.
The same system which denies children with special needs their rights to education,
The same system which frustrates the tax paying disabled woman from getting easy access to the items she needs to make her life more bearable. The woman whose hardship is increased because she has to pay for taxis since the mass transportation system is driven by private enterprise which is allowed to selectively discriminate against the disabled and the elderly and those who do not want to drive fast or with loud music.
In a different country, the parking meter contract and and the Marriott deal and the agreement with Exxon would be available for the public to see and to reject if necessary.
In a different country, the business owner who is concerned about the declining business due to the parking meters would be committed to honouring fair labour practices and equal opportunity employment in their enterprises.
The driver stopped the bus in Duncan Street and jumped out. He didn’t say anything . I asked the conductor “whuh going on’.
“He gone and tek a leak”
Driver was using the fence in an empty lot as a urinal. Two children were playing nearby.
I ask the conductor who was preaching against lawlessness.. ‘he would ah get arrest in UK if he did do duh right?”
Conductor said ‘Yeah.. indecent exposure’.
Neither of us told the driver anything though.
In a different country, I imagine the conductor and I could join together across our differences to find alternative solutions for the driver in his search of a toilet.