GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Oct 16, CMC – The Guyana government Tuesday said it would not support plans for an increase in the toll as announced by the Berbice River Bridge (BRB) company and hinted at legal action being taken to block any increase.
The BRB announced that effective November 12, a significant increase in the toll, indicating also that it had no other alternative.
“The company, unfortunately, has accumulated losses in excess of GUY$2.8 billion (One Guyana dollar=US$0.004 cents), has never paid dividends to its ordinary shareholders and is now in default of obligations to its numerous stakeholders, including the NIS (National Insurance Scheme),” said BRB chief executive officer, Dr. Surendra Persaud.
“It is important that we understand that the NIS’s investment in the Bridge represents an investment of all contributors to the scheme, without exception, past, present and future. These investments by the private companies have now been flagged by their respective auditors and regulators as impaired”, he said, noting that the BRB had received legal advice regarding the new toll.
But Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson, told a hurriedly arranged news conference that the David Granger administration would not support the new toll that showed increases of as high as 150 per cent.
“I want to ensure the entire Berbice that we would do everything in our powers to ensure that this burdensome toll is not passed on to them,” he told reporters, adding that he would holding discussions with the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams on options available to the state.
Patterson hinted that among the options are an amendment to the Berbice Bridge agreement, increased subsidy or “if the Minister of Public Security says it’s a vital and important service and says declare an order to keep it open, we’ll do that.
“The entire gamut of possibilities are open. I don’t know which one we will do this time but I do know that the outcome there will be no fare increases to the people of Berbice,” he said.
Persaud said there appears to be a fallacy that the required adjustment in tolls will benefit the shareholders.
“This is simply not the case. In fact, any excess revenue, as detailed in the 14 pages long tolling policy, which is earned in one year is applied to an adjustment in the following year. Since no adjustment was ever made, no surpluses have been earned, resulting in the required adjustments to the toll being compounded,” he added.
He said under the new toll, the company will be charging GUY$8040 to cross the bridge while pick-ups and 4 wheel drive vehicles will be asked to pay GUY$14,600.
Mini-buses will have to pay GUY$8040 while small trucks will see their bills going to GUY$14,600. Additionally, the company wants medium trucks to pay GUY$27, 720, large trucks GUY $49,600, freight would have to pay GUY$1,680 and boats that will force the bridge to retract will now have to pay GUY$401, 040.
“As a company we are limited to the authorities granted to the company as stipulated in the agreement that exists between the BBCI and the government of Guyana,” Persaud said, noting that the government “like it is currently doing with a number of services including the bridge can subsidize the cost of the toll thereby reducing the impact on the consumer”.
Patterson said that Finance Minister Winston Jordan has already indicated that the government could not afford to increase its subsidy to offset toll increases.
The Public Infrastructure Minister also cast doubt on the possibility of the reintroduction of the Berbice Ferry noting “it will be a tremendously costly exercise to bring them back to speed to the extent where they can have a ferry docking at them”.
He said the government has already decided to set aside GUY$238 million to subsidise the bridge’s operations during next year and to ensure the maintenance and integrity of that crossing.