The Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI) says it is open to consider an offer by Government to buy that critical link.
The bridge, which opened in December 2008, connects Berbice and Demerara.
Built via a private/public partnership model under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic government for around US$40M, it came under the spotlight after it was found that a few companies close to the then Bharrat Jagdeo administration had taken control of the board of directors.
In 2015, when the Coalition Government took over, it revisited the project which was supposed to be transferred in 20 years to the people of Guyana.
The company that ran the bridge, BBCI, was accused of failing to properly maintain the bridge in keeping with the maintenance arrangements.
The company applied for an increase in tolls but was rejected by the Government.
The Government then took control of the bridge with the company challenging the decisions in court. That matter is still ongoing.
Yesterday, the BBCI in a statement said that it has taken note of a recent interview with Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson who said Government had offered to purchase the bridge.
“Minister of Public Infrastructure, Mr. David Patterson, interviewed on NCN on Saturday last (August 17th) on the subject of the Berbice River Bridge, made a number of false and disconcerting statements which have absolutely no basis in truth. The Minister claimed that the financial challenges faced by the Berbice Bridge Co. are no fault of his government. The Minister knows perfectly well that his government has consistently refused to respect its contractual obligation to address the annual adjustments to the bridge toll required by the Concession Agreement between the government and the Bridge Company,” the statement said.
The Bridge Company said as recently as November 2018, it had repeatedly requested to meet with the Minister, in writing, to discuss a revision of the Concession Agreement.
“In response, in a letter of 19th November 2018, the Minister informed the BBCI that his Ministry “in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance, will be appointing an International Financing Firm/Company to provide guidance and expert financial advice regarding the current status and proposal of the BBCI” and that his Ministry was available for a meeting.”
However, since that letter, 10 months have passed but there has been no word.
“In the meantime, the BBCI, in January and March this year, again, wrote the Minister pointing out the urgency of the need to meet on the matter of the tolls and possible revision of the Concession Agreement. The Bridge is yet to receive a response. The BBCI has heard absolutely nothing further from the government with regard to the promised engagement of the International Financing Company.”
The bridge company made it clear that the Concession Agreement with Government is a product of a public/private partnership, but instead of recognising its role as a partner, the Government refuses to meet and has preferred to take control of the bridge and as a result has been ordered by the court to give reasons for its action.
The court hearing is scheduled to be heard on 18th October 2019.
“True to form, even while the matter is proceeding before the court, the Minister has declared the Government’s intention of appealing the Court’s ruling should it not go in the Government’s favour. The Minister’s statement can, of course, be considered to be an attempt to intimidate the Court.”
The bridge company said also that to its complete astonishment, Minister Patterson in the interview said that his government has offered to purchase the ownership of the bridge from the Bridge Company.
“No such offer has been made at any time by the Government. This is a completely irresponsible statement on the part of the Minister and a most unfortunate attempt to mislead the public. The BBCI, nevertheless, is pleased to hear publicly from the Minister that his Government is willing to make a fair and reasonable offer to purchase the ownership of the Bridge and has, as a result, written to the Minister requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the Government’s offer.”
The company said that it continues to remain available to meet with the Minister in good faith and in the public interest.
There have been criticisms that the bridge was barely making enough money to pay the investors, which include a number of insurance and drinks companies, among others.
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