Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday recommended that government buy shares in the Berbice River Bridge or increase its subsidy to the major east-west thoroughfare across the waterway if it does not want to approve a hike in tolls.
He said Berbicians could not afford the steep increases that the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. is asking Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson to approve because the bridge company is contractually obligated to maintain the bridge.
“Buy out the other shareholders so that more of the bridge becomes publicly owned or secondly subsidise the increase that should take place in the toll so they give an an injection into the company so the rate remains flat,” he told a news conference. He said that formula would entail taking over the debt for the bridge and securing greater equity in return.
Patterson has already ruled out giving the green light for tolls to be increased, but he did not say what steps government plans to take to ensure the bridge’s operations are properly financed. The Bridge Company has warned that it faces bankruptcy and investments by the National Insurance Scheme, insurance companies and pension funds have now become impaired.
Jagdeo said he did not support a higher increase in tolls due to deferred hikes in 2014 and 2015, to deal with deferred maintenance. The former Guyanese leader accused the coalition-led administration of tinkering politically with the model for the operation of the bridge, even going as far as tabling a motion in the National Assembly for the tolls to be reduced.
“These people- they screw everything up,” he said. He echoed concerns by Chairman of the Bridge Committee, Dr. Surendra Persaud that investors would no longer trust government to enter into multi-million dollar deals such as the construction of a new bridge across the Demerara River.
“They are in a dilemma now because they are caught by their own rhetoric and what they did, they deferred all the problems in the three years so now it’s catching up on them,” he said.
Persaud, who is an ardent supporter of the Alliance For Change (AFC), declined to say if the political promises by the governing coalition to keep the Berbice Bridge toll low has backfired on the privately-owned company.
The new tolls proposed by the BBCI will see cars and minibuses paying GY$8,040 to cross the bridge; pickups, small trucks and four-wheeled drive vehicles GY$14, 600; medium trucks GY$27,720; large trucks GY$49,600; articulated trucks GY$116,800; freight GY$1,680 and boats GY$401,040.