The Government believes that there is “political machinations” behind the announcement by the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) that it will be increasing all tolls from November 12.
Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson during a press conference at the Ministry’s Wight’s Lane office, Kingston, Georgetown said the date chosen was noted by the Government as it is also the date set for the 2018 Local Government Elections.
“We do note that by that mere move alone there is political implications and political reasoning and political machinations behind this,” Patterson said on Tuesday just moments after the BBCI held a press conference to announce that it will be moving forward with the increases despite Government’s repeated disapprovals.
The Minister said the Bridge, which was constructed and became operational under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C) administration, began making applications for toll increases in 2015 when the Coalition Government was elected to office. Another application was made in 2016 and one in July 2018.
“For nine years, we considered that they were obviously well pleased with their toll agreement. However, soon as the government was changed, there were three applications,” he said.
However, during a press conference following its July 2018 application, it was clarified that the BBCI qualified to apply for a toll increase in 2014 under its contract and the first application was dispatched to the Government in March 2015.
The Minister said he is open to hearing the suggestions from the PPP/C, now in opposition.
Given that the PPP/C won majority votes in Regions Five and Six at the 2016 LGE and therefore holds the position of Chair of the two regions, the Minister suggested that the people of Berbice inquire of their elected representatives how they will be able to afford the increased tolls which were included in a toll structure from the inception.
The current guaranteed rate of return according to the contract is 9% and 12% for the financiers.
“The public-private partnership was just flawed,” he said.
The current Chairman of the BBCI is Dr. Surendra Persaud, member of the Alliance For Change (AFC), of which Minister Patterson is an executive member.
Questioned about this, Patterson said Dr. Surendra “is in a very peculiar position,” as he is also the Chair of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) which is the main shareholder in the BBCI and that company is also running a deficit.
“So, therefore, he [Dr Persaud] is trying to get as much money from wherever for NIS…he is trying somehow or the other to keep the boat afloat,” the Public Infrastructure Minister said in defense of Dr. Persaud.
The PPP/C in a statement on Tuesday evening claimed that the APNU+AFC government had adhered to the financial model of allowing the bridge minimal increases from 2015, it would not have ended up in this problem.
The opposition also said the model and contract documents for the Berbice Bridge can be released as there is no confidentiality clause as is being claimed.
While the party said it is “categorically opposed” to any increase in tolls at the Berbice Bridge, it noted that if the Government signs a toll order to bring into effect the proposed increases, the PPP/C will reverse same if re-elected to office in 2020.
The BBCI proposed increases of some 420% but the Government said it is seeking legal advice to prevent it.