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Berbice bridge tolls to be reduced

The Berbice River Bridge (photo from gy.geoview.info)

Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman, today announced that the Berbice River Bridge toll will be reduced to an amount which has already been communicated to Finance Minister, Winston Jordon.

Trotman, who made this revelation during Wednesday’s post-Cabinet briefing, declined to name the amount the toll is to be reduced by, but shared that the Finance Minister will make the announcement when he presents Budget 2015 later this year.

Trotman explained that the owners of the bridge will now be engaged for negotiations on the proposed reduction, and he said that government is prepared to subsidise the reduced cost in the event that the stakeholders determine that they are unable to lower the toll by the Cabinet-proposed amount.

The bridge, which was built via a sizeable investment of public funds, is managed by the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBI). National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL), which is a member of the Board of Directors of the BBCI, is a preferential shareholder in the bridge on government’s behalf.

The main providers of finance for the construction of the bridge include the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Hand-in-Hand, and New GPC (Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation Company).

“Government is not going to dictate but government is going to negotiate with the company the idea of perhaps a subsidy that will ensure that the tolls are lowered,” Trotman told reporters.

Continuing, the minister said “we have no intentions to interfere with companies’ rights to arrange a favorable return on their investment but we believe that as a responsible government we have a right to represent the people and we have heard the cries of the people of Regions Six (6) and Five (5) in particular who demand a lower rate and if the company is unable to do so government feels that is should step in to work with the company to see how we could literally relieve the burden of the cost.”

The A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) + Alliance for Change (AFC) coalition government, however, has been iterating the lack of available public funds since its assumed the reins of executive power, and we thus asked how it proposed to finance a subsidy. The lack of available funds is among the reasons government is negotiating with a Surinamese beverage company and a Trinidadian cement company for a reduction in amounts owed to the companies as a result of judicial awards against Guyana.

Trotman, however, gave assurances that money will be found to finance such a subsidy if this is the method that is decided on.

The slashing of the toll on the several categories of vehicles is in keeping with an election campaign promise by the A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change coalition in the run-up to the May 11, 2015 general and regional polls.

The previous People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC)-led administration had resisted calls by the then opposition, including one by way of an APNU-sponsored motion in the National Assembly, for the tolls t be reduced. The then government had argued that the Berbice Bridge Company Inc was a private entity and government could not chop the tolls without affecting the profitability of the company.

The Berbice Bridge Company had waived the tolls for major campaign rallies for the PPPC and APNU+AFC that were held east of the Berbice River.