“Wealth is devolved from Berbicians to benefit a private company” – Harmon
The political opposition has for a number of years been calling for a reduction of the toll of the Berbice River Bridge and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has taken this call one step further.
APNU Executive Member, Joseph Harmon, has filed a motion in the National Assembly looking to force government to reduce the toll. In the motion, Harmon calls for the House to direct the Bridge Company to reduce the toll for cars and minibuses by more than half.
The present toll for minibuses and cars is $2,200 and he is asking that this be reduced to $1000.
Harmon is requesting that the National Assembly call on the Government of Guyana to instruct its representative on the Board of Directors of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI), to demand an immediate reduction in tolls charged for crossing the Berbice River.
According to Harmon, since its commissioning in December 2008, the Berbice Bridge has facilitated the crossing of over 650,000 vehicles, resulting in annual revenue of over $1.5B for the BBCI. He pointed out that the Berbice Bridge was built with significant investment by the Government of Guyana, “on behalf of the People of Guyana.”
Harmon noted also that the government through National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL) is a preferential shareholder and a member of the Board of Directors of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc.
In his motion, Harmon argues that the toll for crossing the Berbice River is exceedingly high when compared to a similar crossing of the Demerara River and represents a significant devolution of wealth from the people of Berbice in particular, to the benefit of a private company.
Apart from NICIL being the single largest shareholder, in 2011, Queens Atlantic Investment Inc (QAII) which is owned by Dr Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, the best friend of the former president, Bharrat Jagdeo, acquired even more shares in the BBCI making him the second largest shareholder. That information was not filed in the company’s annual report.
The sale of shares was unearthed by financial analyst, Christopher Ram who in his analysis of the company’s 2011 performance found that CLICO’s Liquidator sold to the Ramroop Group, the 80 million ordinary shares it held in the Bridge Company.
The main providers of the finance for the bridge are the investors in ordinary share capital of $400M, preference shares of $950M and various loans amounting to $7.2B.
The holders of the ordinary shares are NIS, New GPC, QAII and Secure International Finance Company each having $80M, and Hand-in-Hand and Demerara Contractors each holding $40M.
New GPC is also owned by QAII, making Ramroop the second largest shareholder in the bridge Company behind NICIL.
Ram in his writings had accused Brassington of deliberately presenting a misleading annual report for the Bridge Company. He (Ram) suggested that as the head of the Guyana Power and Light inc., Brassington should report accurately.
Ram asserted that if Brassington had reported accurately and completely on Government’s shareholding in BBCI, it would have exposed a scheme by the BBCI, its Secretary Brassington (himself) and NICIL which he represents.
Compounding the situation further is the fact that NICIL has for years waived its dividends in order to ensure that the private investors make their profits and recoup their investment.
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