Govt rejects proposed toll increase for Berbice Bridge

– ‘There will be no increases in toll for the Berbice Bridge’ – Min. Patterson assures commuters

DPI, Guyana, Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The government has assured commuters that there will be no increases in tolls for the Berbice Bridge crossing, and will implement all necessary measures to ensure commuters can continue to traverse the bridge without undue harassment or burdensome tolls.

Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson addressing media operatives at the press briefing on the proposed toll increases by the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI).

This declaration was made by Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, during a press conference today at the Ministry’s Kingston Office. The minister was at the time addressing the proposed 420 per cent bridge toll increases which were announced by the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) earlier today.

“I will not be approving any toll increases for the Berbice River Bridge crossing and that is our position on that. We will be seeking legal advice from the Attorney General Chambers on the legal implications on what is the power and authorities under this act…I would like to give all assurances to all the commuters in Berbice and Regions Five and Six, that the Government will do all that is necessary to ensure that commuters can continue to use the bridge safely and without any particular undue harassments or toll,” Minister Patterson said.

Among the options, that the government will be seeking to explore, are the amendment of the Berbice Bridge Act 2006, increase in subsidy or an injunction.

“If the Minister of Public Security says it is vital and an important service and declares an order to keep it open, we will do that… The entire gamut of possibilities is open… If something is deemed a public good and it’s a public necessity, there is the likelihood that it may be enshrined in some section of our legislative body. Therefore, I would like the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams to explore all implications in this contract as well as the concessional agreement, as well as everything that is applicable to ascertain the limits of the ministry, including legal injunctions.”

The minister stated that the BBCI has reported that it has some $6BILLION in debts. Investors including the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), New Building Society (NBS) and Hand-in-Hand invested some $9BILLION into the project which was conceived in 2006.

Minister Patterson, however, said that the Infrastructure Ministry has set aside $238M in the 2019 National Budget to subsidise the operations of the bridge.

The minister noted that it is not coincidental that the proposed day for implementation of the tolls is November 12 (Local Government Elections Day). “… And we do note that by that mere move alone, there is political implications and political reasoning.”

Minister Patterson, therefore, called on the residents of Berbice to enquire of their elected representatives, the Regional Chairman, Member of Parliament and Leader of the Opposition, about their views on the proposed toll hikes, since it was ingrained in a toll agreement signed by then-president Bharat Jagdeo, that the residents of Berbice must be able to afford toll increases.

On August 21, 2018, the Cabinet approved that the Public Infrastructure Ministry, through the Demerara Harbour Bridge (DBH) company, would maintain the bridge’s 39 pontoons at a cost of $9BILLION for the remaining nine years of the concessionary agreement.

According to Minister Patterson, BBCI stated that it would need to be paid projected profits of $9BILLION to its investors, of which NIS is the largest. The contract provides for a 9 to 12 per cent rate of return, but none of the financiers was willing to reduce their rate of return nor offer to sell their shares to the government at a reasonable price.

Minister Patterson said that the new proposed increases rank among the highest bridge tolls in the world

The Berbice River Bridge Act was passed in the eighth Parliament in January 2006. The then Opposition and other stakeholders had called on the privately-owned BBCI to lower the tolls.

When the government took office in 2015, it implemented river taxis for school children, pensioners, nurses and teachers and provided $155M per annum subsidy starting Jan 2016.

By: Synieka Thorne.

Image: Tejpaul Bridgemohan.

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