– But insists the Company is a “brilliant investment”
At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, essentially highlighted the Berbice River Bridge as a brilliant investment but refused to face reality in admission.
Jagdeo told the media that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) following a feasibility study did not want to support the project when it was proposed. He said that this caused the then government to take the route of entering into a Public Private Partnership (PPP).
Jagdeo admitted that Financial Analysts, Christopher Ram and Ramon Gaskin had advised, in the early stages, that the investment would not yield much benefit. Those experts advised the government against going ahead with the investment at that time.
Jagdeo sought to debunk articles published by Kaieteur News to the effect that the Berbice River Bridge is a cash cow for friends and supporters of the People’s Progressive Party. He said that the bridge is a burden to the State.
He said that his best friend, Dr Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop is yet to receive a single cent on his investment.
Kaieteur News noted that the structure of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI) allows equity shareholders whose investment is less than five percent ($400 million) of the total funds of the company to exercise controlling interest over the company. Of the $400 million, the NEW GPC owned by Ramroop has 40 percent and Hand-in-Hand owns 10 percent.
Kaieteur News lamented the fact that the bridge toll is so high that Berbicians complain. The National Insurance Scheme (NIS), the largest investor, is yet to receive a single cent of dividend, the newspaper reported.
The newspaper added that from all indications, Jagdeo’s friends were the only ones reaping real benefits from the bridge.
However, on Tuesday, Jagdeo said that even Ramroop is not benefitting from the Bridge. He said that Ramroop is in the same boat with NIS. Jagdeo even admitted that the toll is too high. “I would want the tolls everywhere to come down, even at the Berbice Bridge.”
But even after making such admissions, Jagdeo said that he thinks the Bridge is a “brilliant investment.”
Generally, an investment is judged by its profitability. Good investments are expected to yield huge profits for its investors.
But when Jagdeo was asked if he now feels that he should have listened to Ram and Gaskin when they advised against investing in the Berbice Bridge, he responded in the negative.
Jagdeo said, “You hear things like bring the bridge to profitability and then you hear things like a cash cow for friends and family of the PPP so let’s look at the reality.”
The politician said that after IDB refused to invest, “we then wondered how we were going to put together the money for this because it all could not have come from the treasury. The IMF was already saying the fiscal deficit was high and said that there could not be more chunky projects because of the implications of the high fiscal deficit; so we decided to have Public Private Partnership.”
He said that Ram and Gaskin had advised New Building Society against investing, “So we struggled to put together the project’s financing but finally we did…So now the investors are here and we think it is a good investment; until now.”
Jagdeo said that the private investors and NIS are essentially effectively subsidizing the bridge.
“NIS has not received a single dollar of return from its investment in the bridge which led Finance Minister Winston Jordan to say that it was a bad investment for NIS. So on one hand we hear it is a cash cow for PPP friends who invested but the reality is that they have not received a single cent in dividend.
“This does not come over to people…If it is bad investment for NIS wasn’t it a bad investment also for Ramroop who did not get a cent in return. Wasn’t it a bad investment for him? So he should not have put his money there?”
Jagdeo claimed that BBCI has retained earnings to pay the dividends “but it is just that the board never paid out the dividends.”
Jagdeo told the media that if the same rate structure is retained and there is a growth in traffic, the BBCI can give its investors a good return on the capital as well as provide the service needed. “We have to grow the traffic, the use of the bridge.”
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