Government hopes that it will soon be able to leverage greater influence on the decision-making body of the Berbice Bridge to lower tolls when the State soon acquires a 10 percent stake in the company.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo at a press conference on Wednesday indicated that the government is looking to buy shares in the company worth about GUY$45 million.
“We are taking our promise to a further stage of ensuring that our voice is not a feeble one and that the dominant partners in the Berbice Bridge recognise that we are serious. We are prepared to go even further,” he told a news conference.
He that the Government has been engaging Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) over the purchase of 10% of shares in the company.
These shares, held by DDL’s wholly owned subsidiary-Demerara Contractors and Engineering Limited-are orignally worth GUY$40 million.
According to the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister has been instructed to engage DDL on the issue of purchasing their shares.
Asked about buying more shares, Nagamootoo made it clear that the government is interested in such. He explained that “broad feelers” have been put out to companies that may be interested in selling their shares to the Government.
In this regard, he said, another company has already “raised a major flag.” “I believe that what government seeks to do is to send out a broad feeler to all those who have shares. We know that a major shareholder has raised a very big flag and we are going to look at that on its merit but, yes, we are talking to shareholders,” he said.
If the government is able to acquire a controlling amount of shares in the company, it hopes would then be able to effect the decrease in tolls with much ease. “As you know, government is determined to reduce the toll attached to the Berbice River Bridge and we had taken measures, including the provision of ferry taxis, to ease the pressures and burdens of the people who use the bridge but we have come to the position that while we are negotiating with the Bridge Company to effect a reduction in the toll we are also thinking of how this government can place itself in a better negotiating position by attracting shares so that it could have a stronger voice in the governing body of this company,” he said.
The Board of Directors of the Berbice Bridge Company and the government’s Chief Negotiator, Christopher Ram have reached a stalemate in getting the entity to drop the tolls.
There are an ordinary share capital of GUY$400 million and preference shares of $950 million. Holding the ordinary shares of GUY$80 million each are New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation, Queens Atlantic and Secure International Finance Company each having $80 million each. Hand-in-Hand and Demerara Contractors each hold shares of GUY$40 million.