By GHK Lall
I must go against the grain and embrace a contrarian position. It is the extreme position of agreeing fully with government’s “temporary takeover” of the Berbice Bridge. In so doing, I think it signals the administration’s impatience and disgust with the commercial hustlers of another era, who with the colluding and blessing of supportive political leadership ripped off this land in so many ways and so many places.
From the inception, the Berbice Bridge, through its secret underpinnings, its suspect surrounding cast, and its sleazy narrative represented trouble for this country. The passage of time has confirmed earlier fears. The quantum of investment and some of the investors, some of the conspiratorial terms finalized, and some perceived future pains all caused much discomfort back then. Whenever certain characters are involved in deals, trouble comes later. Later is now, as what was feared has become more pronounced and immediate. The people are called (as usual) to pony up and settle the score. It is more like demand, as the loan sharks send the heavy muscle to collect. Now the brass knuckles and baseball bats are held menacingly over the heads of the populace. The interest rate is 365%; they call it toll increases. It is time to pay.
Time to pay for what was slickly and sweetly presented as the fleet steed of Pegasus quickly taking to and fro across the river. As Guyanese of all strains have learned to their horror, and as was characteristic of that rapacious time and its political masters, almost everything that was presented as a succulent fish was really a snake in the grass waiting to strike and cripple. The Berbice Bridge does just that right now to the people of Berbice and bigger Guyana, through those hellacious toll hikes. The glitter of that iron horse (Pegasus) is exposed for being a Trojan Horse in the craw. Tomorrow (2-3 years hence) it would have been another triple digit percentage increase from the minds of those who have made it a science of plundering this place. Because investors like these had (still have) bosom political comrades like these, Berbicians and Guyanese are held with a barrel over their heads. That barrel is loaded and possessing of a paralyzing caliber. Here is the familiar story of the people held hostage, compliments of cronyism, nepotism, the secrecy of communism, and the barbarisms of national political ringmasters clearing the way of obstacles and making things happen. All Guyanese owe a debt of gratitude to the CCJ. These are among the reasons why I am all for the government moving through “temporary takeover” of the Berbice Bridge, of this beguiling monstrosity now terrorizing friends, neighbors, and countrymen. Women and children are not spared.
It might be ironic that, for someone long immersed in the Wall Street mantras of buccaneering free markets, unfettered private enterprise, and opulent capitalist deal making, I now laud openly and unapologetically what is tantamount to unilateral government seizure of this bridge, suddenly a tumor in the gut for Guyanese. There are times, in the face of the egregious and the abhorrent when government is forced to act. This is one of those times, and I am glad that it did. This was such a repugnance foisted on the people of this country, such a glaring example of political and investment deceptions and brigandage that some attempt must be made at redress through balance and fairness. This is about more than Berbice. For starters, I think of the squeezed beneficiaries of NIS.
Moreover, there is precedent for the Guyana government’s action. Even where capitalism runs rampant, the vaunted Americans were compelled to do just so during the throes of the auto industry and the insurance sector (to name only a couple) by running to the rescue. Such actions can be through throwing money at the problem, or taking the controls. The latter is relevant with that bridge too costly and too high with hijinks. I must emphasize that this has to be temporary, as government is rarely ever efficient at managing long-term. Rescue. Restructure. Retreat. Those should be government’s roles. I go further.
Government must plank by dirty plank, and pillar by ramshackle pillar, take back this country from the clutches of the commercial octopi that strangle and poison hapless taxpayers. Government has started by suppressing some of the smart ugly money; and it has raised the bar through calling evaders and defaulters to account for taxes. Now, it must continue the recovery through takeover and handing over (back) the Berbice Bridge in the shortest time and to people of the highest principles. I would be among the first to acknowledge that, in many sickening ways, this government has come to mirror too closely the villainy of its predecessors. But on this Berbice Bridge, with its political incest, its violations of citizens, and its denudations of the vulnerable, the government had to act. It did. I support this move. I see it as neither heavy-handed nor political gimmickry lacking in appreciation for the ramifications of its move. I see this as overdue and vitally necessary, too. I call it rearranging the scales in favor of the people.