Dec 02, 2015 News
A December 1 date for the lowering of tolls for the Berbice Bridge has elapsed, with the company now saying that the matter is in lawyers’ hands. The situation will spell a continuing stalemate over the toll reduction announced by the new administration in its national budget presentation earlier this year.
According to the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) yesterday, an agreement sent to the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) is still being brokered.
The ministry, in announcing the delay, explained that earlier this month it sent the draft agreement to BBCI for review. The agreement, in essence, says that the Government of Guyana will provide a $40M subvention to the bridge, in return for the reduction of tolls.
In return, the bridge has to provide figures of vehicles traversing the structure.
The ministry disclosed that another copy of the proposed agreement was sent to BBCI on Monday.
“The Ministry has been informed that this document is currently engaging the attention of BBCI’s lawyers. Once MPI has received a favourable response from BBCI, the GY$40M allocated for subventions will be available for immediate release. The toll will also be immediately implemented once the agreement has been signed by BBCI,” a statement from the ministry said.
The Ministry said that it had estimated that the toll reduction would be implemented by December 1.
“Nonetheless, MPI is optimistic that an agreement can be reached shortly with BBCI.”
The agreement caters for the toll for passenger cars and buses to be reduced from $2,200 to $1,900, a 13.6 percent decline, while other types of vehicles will be reduced by 10 percent.
The toll reductions had been a campaign promise by the coalition and were outlined in Budget 2015. It was expected to be implemented from September 1, 2015, but was not because negotiations between the Government and BBCI remained deadlocked.
BBCI had asked the government for some extension so that it could discuss the implications of the proposals with their stakeholders.
In the interim, as the commuters awaited the reduced toll, the Government had implemented river taxis to ply the Rosignol to New Amsterdam route.
Minister Patterson told reporters earlier this month that between September 21 and November 7, some 62,465 persons had used the boats. Of this, 11,623 were either students or the elderly.
Government has said that its efforts to reduce the Berbice Bridge toll is part of a plan to alleviate the burden of the high fare for the over 150,000 Guyanese who live within Regions Five and Six that traverse the bridge to access education and health services, conduct business and travel on a daily basis.
In total, the river taxis conducted over 2,800 trips across the river between September 21 and November 7.
The bridge has been a sore issue for the former opposition and Berbicians who have been complaining about the tolls.
Built as a public/private partnership, the financing of the structure and how it ended up in the hands of a few private individuals with little say for Government, has seen the new administration moving to increase its shares and reduce the tolls.
The bridge’s management was controlled by New GPC, a company owned by Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, a close friend of ex-President Bharrat Jagdeo.
Government recently announced that it has moved to buy out the shares of Demerara Distillers Limited in the bridge company.
The bridge was commissioned in 2008.
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