The main Opposition in the National Assembly is set to move a motion next Thursday to have the tolls reduced on the Berbice River Bridge.
The issue is expected to raise hackle in the Government side which has been insisting that the Berbice Bridge is privately controlled and therefore Government does not have the authority to lower tolls.
However, the Opposition has been insisting that a large part of the investments came from taxpayers’ monies and therefore Government must have some say.
According to the Order Papers issued by the Parliament Office for the sitting next Thursday, January 16th, the motion will be moved by Lt Colonel (ret’d), Joseph Harmon, a senior Parliamentarian for A Partnership For Nation Unity (APNU)
He wants it resolved that the “National Assembly calls on the Government of Guyana to instruct its representative on the Board of Directors of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. to demand an immediate reduction in tolls charged by the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. for crossing the Berbice River.
In the motion, he argued that the bridge, commissioned in December 2008, was built with significant investment by the Government of Guyana on behalf of the People of Guyana and now managed by the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI).
Significant to note is that the Government of Guyana through its investment arm, the 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.
Since its commissioning in 2008, the Berbice Bridge has facilitated crossing of over 650,000 vehicles resulting in annual revenue of over $1.5B.
The MP stressed that when compared to the Demerara Harbour Bridge, the tolls to cross the Berbice River “are exceedingly high” and “represent a significant devolution of wealth from the people of Berbice in particular to the benefit of a private company.”
The Parliamentarian also pointed out that the Bridge’s management in recognition that the toll was too high, reduced the toll for a specific period over August 1, 2013 to August 12, 2013.
The Opposition MP noted that Berbice River Bridge Act 2006 provides for the Minister responsible for Public Works to make “Toll Orders”.
Among other things, Harmon wants the rates for sedans (normal cars) to be slashed by half with motorcycles being allowed free passage.
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 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.
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.
Meanwhile, Trevor Williams, an MP for the Alliance For Change, is set to move another motion that will be affecting Berbice.
According to Williams in the proposed motion, the Berbice River Ferry previously served a number of communities from New Amsterdam to Kwakwani, providing critical and affordable transportation to hundreds of Guyanese families and their goods to and from the Berbice Coast.
“And whereas the Government of Guyana with no explanation unilaterally removed this critical service which linked the hinterland with the Coast.”
Individuals, families, organizations and institutions from communities of the Berbice river benefitted from this service in the past and now have to severely alter their way of life to the extent of relocating and abandoning their primary economic activity, Williams claimed.
Many of the communities have now become abandoned and deserted due to lack of significant economic activities.
Arguing that the ferry service remains a critical component to the development of the Berbice riverain communities, the MP argued that other far-flung areas in Guyana which remain accessible by river mainly, Northwest, Bartica and Essequibo Coast, have had the ferry services maintained, thereby providing critical support to residents and facilitating the transport of large scale commodities.
He wants the Government to restore the service “giving hope and stability to the many Guyanese who wish to venture into agricultural entrepreneurship.”
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