The Berbice River Bridge is safe to cross, although the pontoons on which that transportation link floats have not been serviced for several years because that privately-owned company has apparently done nothing to raise a minimum GY$150 million required for servicing, Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson says.
“The bridge is not in any imminent danger of collapsing but what is happening is they need to have a maintenance programme,” he said. The pontoons should have been serviced every three years, but since 2007 when they were due for their first maintenance, he said nothing has been done.
“It is not facing imminent collapse because they (Demerara Harbour Bridge engineers) would have done the inspections…but they are way overdue for servicing,” he said. The inspections, he said, were done about three or four months ago- late last year followed by a report containing observations and recommendations.
He said not all of the pontoons were inspected, but only those that were placed in the river first.
Chairman of the Berbice Bridge Committee, Dr. Surendra Persaud has already refused to speak on the issue, saying that the Berbice Bridge Company is a private entity. Patterson said instead of taking the initiative to raise money, the Bridge has been using public sentiment and fears to try to raise money. “They can borrow because they have guaranteed revenue…If they are unwilling to do that, the Minister of Finance, when the thing came, he said to me float it, the public will buy and take shares in it, the government probably would even buy shares in the company…But it’s irresponsible to not do anything and use the fears of the commuters to try to leverage financing,” he said.
The Public Infrastructure Minister said the company could raise funds for its operations by obtaining a loan or selling shares privately or publicly to the government. “The Berbice Bridge is a private organisation and they have various ways in which they can raise funds,” he said.
Providing the Berbice Bridge Company gets the funds, Patterson said each of the 39 pontoons could be moved to a dry dock in Georgetown and then towed back to Berbice. The Demerara Harbour Bridge, he recalled, had last year recommended to the Berbice Bridge Company that it secure land in Berbice where a dry-dock could be built to repair the pontoons.
Patterson said the Berbice Bridge had made no provision “whatsoever” for the maintenance of the 39 pontoons which could take at least six months depending on the distance they have to be taken. The company only has one replacement pontoon which itself needs servicing before it can be used because it has also been in the water for a for several years.
The Minister said there is little the government could do because the Bridge Company insists that it is privately-owned. “Every time the government has sought to intervene in the company, they make it quite clear that this is a private company. You remember when we were trying to lower the fares, they said you can’t interfere,” the minister said.
Engineer, Bert Carter, who was a Berbice Bridge director, has said that although none of the shareholders got dividends because the bridge never made a profit, government’s National Insurance Scheme (NIS), which invested in GY$950 million in preferred bonds, has since recouped that investment in December 2015 plus another GY$500 million.