By Kiana Wilburg
After much resistance and posturing, the coalition government and the owners of the Berbice River Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) will soon sign an agreement to lower the bridge tolls. This is according to Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson.
Reaching to this point was surely not a walk in the park, Patterson said. He recalled the challenges faced in the beginning when government announced its plans to have the tolls reduced. But the Berbice Bridge Company had objected to it, leaving government with no option but to implement River Taxis.
The River Taxis were used by hundreds of Berbicians and the undertaking was deemed a success.
Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman was the first government official to indicate to the media last week that despite the troubles between the two parties, there seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel. He noted that government has finally reached a place where it can be at the table with the dominant players in fruitful discussions as opposed to what existed before.
Finance Minister Winton Jordan supported his colleague’s position on the matter. In an invited comment he said, “I believe that we have come to an understanding as it relates to the lowering of the fares. Of course, the devil is always in the detail as to how you implement it, but at the moment, the matter is in the hands of Attorney General (AG), Basil Williams and Patterson.”
He added, “As you know, the Public Infrastructure Minister is the one with responsibility for the bridge arrangements, but I approve payments…”
Patterson said yesterday that both parties have agreed to have the tolls lowered, and as such government has crafted an agreement which first has to be approved by the AG, after which, it will be sent to the Berbice Bridge Company for perusal, signed by both parties, and then implemented.
“The agreement speaks to certain terms and conditions, subventions and payments and that is all I could reveal at this point, or speak on at this point, because as I said before, it has to be approved by the AG.”
Patterson reiterated, “Both parties have agreed to lower the tolls. But it is just the mechanism to get it in place and is in the form of the agreement which we expect will be signed very soon.”
The Granger-led Administration, while in opposition, had expressed concerns about the high toll placed on the citizenry to cross the Berbice River Bridge, which was constructed via a public-private partnership.
Since taking office, the new Government has made proposals to subsidise the cost of the toll reduction, which would have seen a steady decrease in tolls for commuters, thereby bringing relief.
In October, Government said that it was buying out shares in the Berbice River Bridge. In this regard, Prime Minister and First Vice President Moses Nagamootoo had announced that one of the shareholders offered to sell its shares owned in the Berbice Bridge Company to the Government of Guyana.
Nagamootoo announced that Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) agreed to sell government the 40 million shares it owns in the bridge company.
According to Nagamootoo, the company has called an asking price of some $45M, but he is optimistic that through negotiations, a better price could be arrived at.
But in the wake of this news, the Berbice Bridge Company said that it would be accepting an offer by the administration to pay a $40M subsidy in order to effect a proposed toll reduction in the charges to cross the bridge.
Egbert Carter, BBCI’s Chairman, had indicated that while much was said regarding the inability of the company to readily accept the subsidy proposal, there was need to first notify the shareholders and “now that they would have agreed, we can accept the proposal made by the administration”.
The New Guyana Pharmaceutical Company (GPC) which is owned by Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, has $80M in share stock in the Berbice Bridge.
The other principal investors in the bridge include the National Insurance Scheme with an initial $80M share, Secure International Finance Company with $80M shares, Demerara Contractors, which holds $40M in shares, Hand in Hand Motor & Life Insurance Company that holds $40M in shares and the Colonial Life Insurance Company with $80M in shares.
The remaining and overwhelming majority of shares held in the Berbice Bridge Company belonged to Government through the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and stands at $950M in preference shares. This has since been sold to NIS, bringing its share stake to in excess of one billion.
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