Berbice Bridge challenge: AG given more time to make submissions on unilateral takeover

The Berbice Bridge
The Berbice Bridge

The High Court has given the Attorney General’s Chambers two additional weeks to make submissions citing the legal arguments on which it opted to take over operations of the Berbice Bridge from the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI).

In October, BBCI announced it was facing bankruptcy and its main investor – the National Insurance Scheme – was given no choice but to push for a toll increase.

However, Government in a shocking move announced on November 5, 2018, that it would be taking control of the Bridge on November 12. The Bridge was financed through a public-private partnership.

The Bridge Company thereafter challenged the Government’s takeover. Now that the matter is being heard, Justice Gino Persaud, who presided over in-chamber proceedings on Monday, outlined that the State must submit its legal arguments by December 28.

This is according to BBCI representative, Senior Counsel (SC) Ralph Ramkarran, who told the press that both sides would return to court on January 21, 2019, to present arguments. Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) Debra Kumar appeared on behalf of AG Basil Williams.

The takeover was effected by Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson under Sections 4 (1) and 11 of the Berbice River Bridge Act whereby “in the interests of public safety”, he issued an Order declaring that the functions of the concessionaire to maintain and operate the Bridge “shall be exercised by the Government of Guyana as of 5th November 2018 until the date the Minister specifies by notice on the cessation of the threat to public safety”.

The Bridge Company, in its writ, petitioned the High Court to grant several orders to reverse the takeover and bar the Minister from carrying out his functions of maintaining and operating the Bridge.

The Company has sought “an order of certiorari quashing paragraph 2 of the Berbice River Bridge (Public Safety) Toll Order 2018 dated the 1st November 2018, No 42 of 2018, made by the first named defendant (Minister Patterson) under the Berbice River Bridge Act Cap 51:06 ordering that the functions of the concessionaire, namely the claimant (BBCI), to maintain and operate the Bridge shall be exercised by the Government”.

The Bridge Company also wants to prevent Government or its agents from exercising the functions of maintaining and operating the Berbice Bridge. The BBCI has also requested an order of certiorari to quash paragraph 3 of the Minister’s Order, which states that the tolls levied and collected, and any exemptions, shall be the same and not increased.

The Company is asking the court too for an order to prohibit the Public Infrastructure Minister from stopping the increases in the tolls.

The BBCI wants the court to declare that Minister Patterson has no power under the Berbice River Bridge Act, or otherwise, to approve or reject an increase in tolls by the claimant. It also wants the court to grant a declaration that this order by the Public Infrastructure Minister is unconstitutional, null, and void and of no effect in that it is tantamount to the compulsory taking of possession or compulsorily acquiring an interest in or right over the Berbice River Bridge, which is owned by the BBCI, without prompt and adequate compensation in violation of Article 142 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana.

The BBCI has also requested that an order directing the Public Infrastructure Minister to supply to the Bridge Company, as a body affected by his order, 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.


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