The Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI) has signaled its intention to not give up control of the Berbice River Bridge without a fight. Yesterday, the company announced that it sees the government’s recent move to take control of the bridge as “unlawful.”
This announcement was made via a missive the company sent to the media.
The letter read, “The Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI) has received the Toll Order 2018 (Public Safety) made under the Berbice River Bridge Act by the Minister of Public Infrastructure to maintain and operate the Bridge and to maintain the tolls as the same as those levied before the coming into operation of the Order.”
It continued, “The Berbice Bridge Company Inc. considers, based on legal advice, that the Order is unlawful and ultra virus under Section 11 of the Berbice River Bridge Act on which it is based.”
It was via this very letter that the BBCI made the media aware that it wrote Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, yesterday.
The letter sent to Patterson was also released to the media. It read, “I write in connection with the above Captioned Order, on behalf of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI), the Concessionaire, under the Concession Agreement dated June 12, 2006, between the Ministry of Public Works and Communications, by which your Ministry was previously known, and the BBCI. Pursuant to Section 15 of the Judicial Review Act, I write to request, that as a body affected by the Order, that you supply BBCI with a statement setting out the findings on material questions of fact, referring to the evidence or other material on which those findings were based and giving the reasons for the decision.”
BBCI even gave the Minister a time frame during which he should respond. The company said, “I look forward to your response within fourteen (14) days of the date hereof.”
BBCI said that subject to the Minister’s response, it will consider its options which “do not
exclude a legal challenge to the Order.”
In the meantime, the company said that it considers that it “has no alternative but to comply with the Order issued by the Minister prohibiting the Company from implementing the Toll Adjustment announced on 16th October, 2018.”
On Monday, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure announced that government will take control of the Berbice Bridge based on a concern for Public Safety.
The Ministry sought to assure the citizens of Berbice and the public in general on behalf of the Government of Guyana that there will be no change to the present toll structure and all exemptions presently in place will remain in effect.
“Equally, there will be no change to the staffing complement, contractors and suppliers
as we transition into this new and hopefully temporary arrangement. And finally, we will be continuing our dialogue with BBCI in expectation of an amicable resolution to the dispute,” he statement said.
BBCI recently officially requested a 19-year concession extension from Government as a bargaining chip to stop the rollout of hefty toll increases for vehicular traffic.
The company’s demands are contained a letter from Finance Controller and Company Secretary, Stephen Rambajan dated November 2 and addressed to Minister Patterson.
The letter called for a meeting between BBCI officials and Government in order to address the matter before November 11 – a day before the company plans to introduce a staggering 365 percent increase in vehicular tolls.
According to BBCI, Government’s agreement to the extension would actually give the company a total concession of 40 years.
According to the Concession Agreement that was signed by the Bharrat Jagdeo administration with BBCI – the Concessionaire/Operator – the time of the “Handback” should be in nine years’ time.
However, the company indicated that the extension of the concession is a means of avoiding the need for implementation of toll increases announced on October 16 and the implementation of toll increases in the immediate future.
BBCI continues to be seen as a private company that was controlled by close friends of former President Jagdeo.
After repeated disclosures by Kaieteur News on the leaked concession agreement, the company issued a response which confirmed that although the bulk of the money invested in the Berbice Bridge came from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), Dr. Ranjisinghi ’Bobby’ Ramroop is the largest shareholder with 40 percent.
A chart that was included in the response, provided details about the ownership of the bridge.
NICIL has 10 percent shares in the bridge, NIS has 20.2 percent, Hand-In-Hand Fire Insurance has 10 percent, New GPC has 20 percent, Queens Atlantic Investment Inc. has 20 percent and Secure International Finance Co. Limited owns 20 percent.
Brassington’s brother, Michael, is the largest shareholder in Hand-In-Hand. The Ramroop/Brassington combination therefore puts the ownership of the bridge in the hands of Jagdeo’s close friends.
The BBCI was keen to note that no single company has a majority share. However, Ramroop owns two of the companies (New GPC and Queens Atlantic Investment Inc.) that each has 20 percent shares.
The disclosures of the leaked Concession Agreement would be shocking, as it included also other sweetheart arrangements with the company, which has the possibility of continuing to run 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.”
With nine years remaining before the bridge is supposed to be handed over to the people of Guyana, a government-ordered review last year reportedly found that the 39 pontoons were not maintained in the three-to-five year period that is required.
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