Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram, hosted a presentation on Thursday in
New Amsterdam and put forward several recommendations to the politicians, members of the business community and members of the public regarding the toll structure currently being paid to use the Berbice River Bridge.
The presentation, which was held at the Mission Chapel Church Hall, Chapel Street, saw the attendance of representatives from corporate New Amsterdam, the Berbice Chambers of Commerce and members of the Alliance For Change.
Mr Ram told the gathering that his proposals are contained in a draft document which will be released very shortly.
His proposals, he said, includes four recommendations that would put the Berbice Bridge Company back into public ownership “so that the Berbicians and users of the bridge are not discriminated viz a viz those in Demerara, the financial structure, and the very concept of this arrangement of how the company is financed.
He proposes a lowering of the rates charged for the use of the bridge. At present the toll for a car is $2,200 and for a SUV, $4,000. These are among the highest tolls in the world.
“The concession agreement, despite its excessive generosity, imposes certain conditions on a company that was practically made insolvent early. It could not make certain payments, and therefore, one shareholder, presumably the government had to waive hundreds of millions of dollars in preference dividends in order for others to get their own interests and other forms of return,” he said.
He recommended that the government take the bridge over and pay off the investors and shareholders. “$400M is valueless, because there is no way this bridge can produce returns for those people”.
“Government needs to negotiate with the shareholders and investors to acquire their interest in the company and then liquidate the company.
Ram also recommended that the Bridge be vested “in a public company…I would like to see a Bridge Authority, so that for the Demerara, Berbice and Linden Bridges…you have one standard type of maintenance.
In that case, you get rid of a substantial quantity of the amortization costs, because if the government vests the bridge in a company, that bridge can last with reasonable maintenance, for 50 years.
The government can treat it like a normal public asset, like our roads; you don’t charge for a road,” he posited.
“It will drastically bring down the tolls for all categories of users,” he said.
The other recommendation was that there be a Board of Government representatives and the Berbice business community to manage the bridge.
Ram said that the present directors of the bridge, among whom are Geeta Singh-Knight, Egbert Carter, Paul Fredericks, Cecil Kennard, Paul Cheong and Keith Evelyn, “are extremely insensitive. The fact that they are refusing to meet with you all [the business persons present at the meeting] is the zenith of arrogance and contempt that they have for the Berbice people”.
Ram told the gathering that new recommended rates were arrived at after long and arduous consultations with professional colleagues. “If they follow these recommendations, they would be able to generate sufficient revenue, because as you know, there is the elasticity of demand —as prices go down, demands go up, [more] people will start to use the bridge,” he added.
Ram told Kaieteur News that politicians are not treating the toll issue with the priority it needs.
“You need a sustained campaign, it needs more than politicians, and politicians want to get power. And you’re not going to get the PPP to admit that this structure is wrong. I believe the people to drive this are the business community in Berbice, the professional class and if you have the consumers association,” he stated.
Ram urged the gathering to take the considerations seriously. “There’s just inertia. There’s a feeling that no matter what you do, nothing is going to change… power reside in people and things can change if people want them to change.”
AFC Member, Dr Veerasammy Ramayya, after the presentation, asked Mr Ram why the information on the proposals weren’t given earlier to Berbicians “that could have been used to sensitize people because most occasions Berbice is being taken for granted, and Berbice is not part of Guyana and NCN is showing what they want to tell the people.”
Mr Ram replied, “Why didn’t the Chambers of Commerce…say ‘Ram why don’t you come and talk and be interviewed?’”
Despite subsidies, the Report added that the Bridge is uneconomic for all Investors and users of the Bridge.
“The Government forgoes considerable amounts in taxes and in waivers of Preference Shares Dividends.”
“Even at, or because of high tariffs the Company will continue to make huge losses. In the medium to long term the company would only be able to repay loans by further borrowings and would be unable to pay its debts at the time of its contractual handover.
”The cost of the Bridge to users and especially Berbicians is both economic and social. It may even affect access to education and health. Action is needed,” Ram added.
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