Government can easily block the implementation of fee increases to cross the Berbice Bridge by refusing to sign the “toll order” which is required under the laws, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo says.
The Berbice Bridge Act 2006 stipulates that the toll order must be signed by the responsible minister before the rates can take effect, as was done by the then Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn.
The Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI) Tuesday announced that it will be forging ahead with toll increases despite not having support from the Government, based on legal advice obtained from the Cameron and Shepherd Law firm.
Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson has since committed to fighting the increases, saying the Attorney General Basil Williams will advise the Government on its next step.
But Jagdeo told a news conference Wednesday afternoon that Minister Patterson’s commitment to “fight” the fee hike makes him appear as a “knight in shining armor” which, he believes, is a political ploy for the Local Government Elections on November 12, 2018 – the same day the increases are scheduled to take effect.
Jagdeo explained that the Chairman of the BBCI, Dr Surendra Persaud, is a staunch Alliance For Change (AFC) ally, and therefore he was most likely influenced by his Party to instigate the steep increases to deliberately “shock” commuters of the Berbice Bridge.
“So they get one of their guys to scare the people in Berbice … and then the Minister comes in and says ‘I am opposed to it’. He is then the ‘knight in shining armor’ and a lot of people will say ‘this Patterson is a really great man’,” Jagdeo contended.
What does the contract say?
The operations of the Berbice Bridge company are governed by the Act and the Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract which was signed under the Jagdeo administration.
The BBCI is contending that the fee increases is provided for in the toll formula in the contract but the former president has rejected that justification.
Asserting that the Company is trying to “dupe” the public, the Opposition Leader says nowhere in the contract does it provide for the bridge tolls to be so high.
Displaying a bar graph extracted from the contract, he told reporters that only two years were entitled to increases of 6.4% and 17%, after which, the fees would have been adjusted downwards.
“That increase is not part of the contract…the toll schedule caters for minimum increases, nothing of this magnitude,” he stated.
Further, Jagdeo opined that the Company is generating more revenues than the projections in the contract, and therefore, increases of this enormousness, is not warranted.
However, the BBCI has been arguing that it is making losses in excess of $2.8B and has been unable to pay dividends to its ordinary shareholders.
In this case, Jagdeo says Minister Patterson needs to interrogate the Bridge Company on its financial status and why it is unable to meet its obligations. According to Jagdeo, this is what the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) would have done if it were in Government.
The former president says he has “no apology” for building the Berbice Bridge, especially under the current financial model, as it is a “transformational”.
He posited that the adjustments to the toll were never meant to be this exorbitant and argued that even if it reached heights which the commuters could not afford, a PPP Government would have intervened.
In fact, Jagdeo charged the Government to release the contract so the public can assess for itself whether it caters for such steep increases as is being proposed by the Bridge Company.