…NIS now owns 76 per cent of Berbice Bridge
Financial Analyst, Christopher Ram, has accused the Private Sector Commission (PSC) of resorting to intrigue, diversion, distortion and deception to divert attention from the fact that the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) now owns 76 per cent of the Berbice River Bridge Company.
According to Ram, the PSC in its most recent statement on the Bridge Company Inc. was unwilling to acknowledge this.
He pointed to the PSC statement that read, “as far as we are aware, the government directly or indirectly has no investment in, or liability relating to, the [Berbice River] bridge at this time.”
Ram described this as a crudely disguised political response to A Partnership for National Unity (APNU’s) call for reduced toll charges across the Berbice River.
That statement issued by the Private Sector Commission drew questions from some of the PSC membership about the process leading up to its issue.
Ram said that instead of addressing the concerns of whether the statement was authorised by the PSC Executive rather than authored by Ramesh Dookhoo at the behest of Ron Webster, the PSC after an unsuccessful investigation into an email “leak” resorted to distortions.
He said that its latest offering reveals that NICIL has sold to the NIS, 950 million worth of preference shares in the Berbice Bridge Company Inc., the existence of which it never acknowledged, let alone the ownership of those shares, even in statutory filings signed by then Company Secretary, Winston Brassington.
According to Ram, the sale does not alter the factual nature of his earlier response to the PSC statement.
He reminded of his position when he said Government, inclusive of the NIS, owns 76 per cent of the issued shares of the company.
The PSC had argued that NIS is an institutional investor which bought the 950 million shares.
According to Ram, “It is hard to believe that the PSC does not know that a transfer from one government controlled entity (NICIL) to another (NIS) does not alter the Government’s direct and indirect investment in the issued shares of BBCI.
“Does the PSC truly believe that being an institutional investor in the Bridge Company alters the legal nature and status of the NIS…And does it not agree that following the sale, the NIS now owns 76 per cent of the issued shares in the Company?”
According to Ram, the PSC has refused to acknowledge that NIS is Government-controlled.
“It cannot be outside of their knowledge that by law, the Minister of Finance appoints everyone of the Scheme’s eight non-executive directors as well as its sole ex-officio director. And again by law, that the Scheme is under-written by the Consolidated Fund.”
Ram said that the PSC dishonestly claims that he “pointed” to Government’s ownership of a Special Share as “evidence of ownership”.
“Coming from the PSC, such distortions are unsurprising but no less dishonourable.”
Ram said, “I find it hard to tell whether the bigger problem for the PSC is being honest or being accurate.”
He said that in responding to the PSC’s call to him to extricate them from the embarrassing situation in which they found themselves, Brassington, NICIL’s CEO, could not avoid revealing that NICIL’s coffers are now swollen by the proceeds of the sale of the preference shares with an original book value of $950 million.
“I believe that this is the first public intimation of that sale.”
He said that with strong public relations link between the PSC and NICIL, it was relatively easy for the PSC to recruit Brassington to divulge to them information to shape their response, “including the small matter of a billion dollar transaction.”
He said that NICIL and the NIS must now provide the public with full particulars of the preference shares sale transaction, including the persons engaged in the negotiations; the date the transaction took place; the price at which the shares changed hands; the basis of the valuation; and whether the shares were sold ex-div or cum-div, that is, with or without the dividends payable at the date of the transaction.
NIS General Manager, Doreen Nelson, said that she could not remember when the scheme bought 950 million shares in the Berbice River Bridge from NICIL.
Nelson was contacted yesterday, to ascertain when the shares were purchased from NICIL. She said that she could not remember the exact date but that the information was at her office.
Efforts to contact Winston Brassington, who heads up NICIL proved futile.
NICIL, the government holding agency for national assets, and headed by Brassington, sold all of the $950M worth shares that it had to the NIS. There was no announcement of this sale.
NIS is in receipt of healthy dividends on the $80M it had initially invested, while NICIL had waived collecting any dividends on the $950M it had plugged into the construction of the bridge.
The original investors in the Berbice bridge were NICIL with 950 million shares, Bobby Ramroop’s New GPC, NIS, CLICO, and Secure International Finance Company had 80 million shares each. Hand in Hand and Demerara Contractors each held 40 million shares.
The CLICO shares have since been sold to New GPC making Ramroop the largest single private shareholder in the bridge and with NICIL selling its 950 million shares to NIS, that body now holds 1.03 billion shares in the bridge.
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