In nine years time, the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI) is set to hand-over the structure to the Government of Guyana.
However, that would not have been the end of the controversial company if former President Bharrat Jagdeo and his administration had had their way.
According to the Concession Agreement that Jagdeo’s administration signed with BBCI- the Concessionaire/Operator- at the time of the “handback”, in nine years time, the company has the possibilities to continue running the bridge and collect tolls.
The agreement says: “At the expiration of the Concession Period and at the Handback date, the Concessionaire shall be eligible to tender for the ability to operate and maintain the Toll Bridge and toll plaza on a competitive basis.”
The disclosures of the leaked Concession Agreement would be shocking as it included also other sweetheart arrangements with the BBCI, a private company that was controlled by close friends of Jagdeo.
In May 2015, the Coalition Government entered office and sought to change the board of directors, which was filled with top lieutenants of New GPC and other companies who were close to Jagdeo.
This was after years of a tight lid being kept on the operations of the facilities which had funds linked to the state, through the National Insurance Scheme and which were invested in the bridge company.
However, despite placing Dr. Surendra Persaud, a close affiliate of the Alliance For Change (AFC), as Chairman, the government still had to contend with the shareholders.
Last week, the Chairman dropped a bombshell, announcing a 365 percent increase of vehicular tolls come November 12, the same day as local government elections.
The BBCI has also officially informed Government of the plans.
Government has flatly said it will not be approving any tolls increase.
Rather, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure has been seeking legal advice to determine the extent of the Government’s power on the Berbice Bridge.
The issue has been a complex one.
On one hand, BBCI has been insisting that it is a private company and cannot be controlled by Government.
On the other hand, it is demanding the increase, to which it says it is entitled in its Concession Agreement, to be subsidized by the government.
There has been widespread anger in especially Berbice over the announcement as under the agreement, no ferries or boats can operate on the river, effectively forcing businesses and citizens to use the structure.
However, since early 2016, the Coalition Government has placed water taxis in the Berbice River to allow free rides to nurses, school children and senior citizens.
Government had also lowered the toll from $2,200 to $1,900 per car and is currently paying the bridge a subsidy of $150M annually.
With regards to the shareholders of the Berbice Bridge, Government has purchased $40M in share belonging to the Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL).
According to reported information, the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Company (GPC) which is owned by Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, a close friend of Jagdeo, 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 shares, Secure International Finance Company with 80M shares, Hand in Hand Motor & Life Insurance Company which holds 40M shares and the Colonial Life Insurance Company with 80M shares. The remaining and overwhelming majority of shares stands at $950M in preference shares.
This has since been sold to NIS, bringing its share stake to in excess of $1B.
However, despite the majority of the monies by NIS, the control of the bridge, prior to 2015, was largely in the hands of New GPC and a few individuals with close ties to Jagdeo.
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