– IMC undecided
Government has ordered Linden’s management to cease taking tolls from trucks crossing the township, saying that it is illegal. But the management of that Region 10 community is still to decide whether it will comply, claiming that the removal of the tolls will wipe out a third of revenue and even see staffers sent home.
According to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, it has revoked the order which enables the Linden Municipality to levy tolls on vehicles traversing the township, inclusive of Kara Kara. Kara Kara is the entrance to Linden coming from the city.
“This revocation was conveyed to the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Linden Town Council on September 17, 2013 by Minister Norman Whittaker in a letter addressed to the IMC Chairman Mr. Orrin Gordon,” the Ministry said yesterday.
Linden has been charging the tolls for trucks and other vehicles for years now. It stepped up its enforcement earlier this year after Government announced that employers are mandated to pay workers a $35,000 minimum wage.
However, a “stakeholder” protested to Central Government over the tolls and urged a review.
“A legal opinion obtained by government has deemed the order with its attended by-laws “void and unenforceable”, the Ministry said.
In his letter to Gordon, the Minister said that the Interpretation and General Clauses Act provides that all such orders and by-laws shall be published in the Official Gazette and shall come into operation on the date of publication, unless it is otherwise expressly provided that they shall come into operation on some other date.
“It has been determined that the by-law, which purports to authorize the toll fees on vehicles passing through Linden and more specifically over the Kara Kara bridge, was never inserted in the Official Gazette and consequently this by-law never came into operation as is required by the Interpretation and General Clauses Act.”
Linden, because of its location, is a central point linking the hinterland to the coastland. Persons wanting to head to Kwakwani, Upper Berbice River, or to Lethem, Region Nine and Brazil, have to pass through Linden. The area is also the gateway to logging and mining concessions, with a significant amount of trade, lumber and visitors from Brazil coming through the bauxite-mining community.
In his letter to the IMC Chairman, the Minister cautioned the IMC to cease collecting the toll immediately, failing which legal proceedings would be instituted against council.
Region 10 Chairman Sharma Solomon was out of the country and Kaieteur News was referred to Eric Harry, Vice Chairman of the IMC.
The official made it clear that with annual projected revenues of just over $100M, any removal of the tolls at Kara Kara, the entrance to Linden, will slash almost 30 per cent of its earnings.
“Based on our projections, we have already paid workers who were earning below the minimum wage before July 1st. People who were getting $24,000 monthly are now getting $35,000.”
Harry said that while he is aware of the directives from the Government, the IMC and leaders of Linden have not made a decision yet on the way forward on the toll issue.
On a monthly basis, the town pulls in between $2.3M-$3M.
The IMC directly employs 104 persons, including cleaners and other staffers.
“We also have employed persons to ensure that persons do not pass without paying. We had a lot of those.”
Harry believes that the current unhappiness about the tolls may be linked to increased monitoring at the Kara Kara toll booth, to ensure that revenues are not leaked.
There have been complaints of corruption at the toll booth, with thousands of dollars not being handed over to the IMC.
Apart from operating the toll booth at Kara Kara, the Linden municipality has a joint partnership with the Linmine Secretariat for the management and operation of the toll booth at the Mackenzie/Wismar Bridge.
Prior to the partnership, the bridge was managed by the Town Council, but after urgent repairs were needed – to the tune of $30M, which the Council did not have – the Linmine Secretariat took the responsibility for the repairs, and subsequently partnered with the Council and later the IMC, to recoup the monies spent.
That partnership sees the Linmine Secretariat giving 25 percent of toll revenues taken for any given month to the IMC, plus $300,000 as a ‘gift’.
It has been reported that on a yearly basis, the Mackenzie/Wismar Bridge makes anywhere in the vicinity of $50M.
Logging trucks, laden with about ten thousand board measurement of wood, currently pay some $3,000 per truckload, while the minibuses and trucks from Georgetown with merchandise pay a toll of $2,800 and $4,800 respectively.
Linden, long considered an Opposition stronghold, was blockaded last year by residents following the fatal shooting of three persons who were reportedly protesting a proposed hike in electricity tariffs for that town. Linden was closed to traffic for one month, crippling trade and movement of food and other critical supply to the hinterland areas. (Leonard Gildarie)
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