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PSC, Opposition at loggerheads over Berbice Bridge toll

The Berbice River Bridge (GINA photo)

The Private Sector Commission (PSC) opposes moves by the opposition-controlled National Assembly to pass a motion for the reduction of tolls to cross the Berbice River Bridge.

The PSC’s position came little more than one day before the National Assembly was Thursday due to debate a motion sponsored by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) for a slash in the tolls.

The business organisation maintains that the Berbice Bridge Company is a private sector company while APNU has argued that government could use its leverage on the Board to reduce the tolls.

“…and whereas the Government of Guyana through National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL) is a preferential shareholder and a member of the Board of Directors of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc,” states APNU’s motion in the names of Joseph Harmon and Amna Ally.  The parliamentary coalition said the Berbice Bridge was built with significant investment by the Government of Guyana on behalf of the People of Guyana.

APNU hopes that the National Assembly, through the motion, can persuade the Guyana government to instruct its representative on the Board of Directors of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc to demand an immediate reduction in tolls charged by the Berbice Bridge Company Inc for crossing the Berbice River.

In expressing “deep concern” with what it terms efforts by some parliamentarians “interfere in the management of the Berbice Bridge,” the PSC explained that the company was majority-owned by the private sector.

“The Berbice Bridge Company is owned 80% by Guyanese Private Sector interests, including pension funds and 20% by an institutional investor, the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), that also holds non-voting preference stock in the Company and provides one of the few opportunities for a good investment return on Guyanese workers’ NIS contributions and may also be considered critical to the future life of the Scheme.  As far as we are aware, the Government directly or indirectly has no investment in, or liability relating to, the bridge at this time,” said the PSC.

For the umbrella private sector organisation, “the company is managed by a Board of Directors representing the investment interests; no one Director can determine or undermine the decision of the full Board, Government or not.”

The PSC vowed to resist any attempt at tinkering with the operations of the Berbice Bridge Company outside of regulations, fearing that doing so would create send a bad signal to future investors.

“The PSC will vigorously oppose any form of non-regulatory interference in the management of Private Sector companies, which in this instance if allowed to proceed will negate against attracting private investment in similar infrastructural projects,” the PSC added.

The PSC argued that the Bridge Company attracted investment by offering a minimum return to investors who were prepared to take the financial risk; this must not be interfered with. “The PSC supports private investment of this nature in National Projects, but the ability to attract this type of investment demands confidence in the future of the economy and low capital risk,” the organisation added.

Noting that the Berbice Bridge has raked in more than GUY$1.5 billion in annual revenue since it was commissioned in December 2008, APNU called the toll for crossing the bridge “exceedingly high” compared to charges for crossing the Demerara Harbour Bridge. According to APNU, that “represents a significant devolution of wealth from the people of Berbice in particular to the benefit of a private company.”

APNU recalled that the Berbice Bridge Company had reduced the toll from August 1 to August 12, 2013 because the board had recognised that the toll was too high.

APNU wants the following toll structure to be implemented for crossing the Berbice Bridge.

Category

Present Rates

Proposed Rates

Motor Cars

$2200

$1000

Mini Buses

$2200

$1000

Motor Cycles

$200

Free

Four-wheel drive/ SUVs/Pick-ups

$4000

$3000

SUVs and pick-ups pulling a boat for recreational   activities

$4000

$3000

Four-wheel drives, SUVs and pick-ups pulling horse buggies

$4000

$3000

Four-wheel drives/ SUVs / pick-ups transporting BBQ Grills, coolers

$4000

$3000

50-seater bus

$12,800

$9000

30-seater bus

$7,200

$6000

Large Trucks

$13,600

$10000

Relations between the PSC and the opposition have been at an all-time low ever since APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) used their one-seat majority to vote down amendments to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism Act. The opposition also threw out a PSC peition to the House on the same matter.