Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo is now calling the 365 per cent increase in the bridge tolls that was announced on Tuesday by the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) a political “campaign gimmick” by the incumbent Administration.
“The Berbice Bridge Act in section 3 under Toll Order states that the Maximum amount of toll to be charged during concession periods and any increase requires the Minster’s intervention and the Minster implements it through a toll order… the toll order specifies the rates and has to be signed by the Minister…this increase can’t happen without the Governments intervention. It’s easy for anyone who wants to get to the bottom of this matter to do so…this is purely a campaign gimmick” Jagdeo said.
He was at the time speaking during his weekly press conference held at his Church Street, Queenstown office on Wednesday.
According to the General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C), the increases seemed to have come as a result of collusion between the Government and BBCI which would then see the current Administration acting as the knight in shining armour who steps in and saves the day by lowering or blocking the increases.
The Opposition Leader said that the financial model which is an annex to the bridge’s contract, guides how the bridge is to be operated.
He noted that the financial projection shows a constant decrease, with the exception of two years, of tolls until 2026 when the bridge is expected to be handed over to the state.
Currently, the revenue of the Berbice River Bridge is reportedly doing better than that in the financial model, as such; Jagdeo further questioned the shocking increase.
The former President posited “All Government has to do is not sign the toll order. If they collude with the company to increase toll, we are committed to decreasing rates back to same level if we regain power.
Jagdeo speculated that the Chairman of BBCI, Dr Surendra Persaud instigated the decision made by the Board.
“They prevailed upon him not just to announce an increase but to make it so shocking that they will once again get a campaign issue, so Patterson like Granger will be the knight and shining armour. This is purely a campaign gimmick, it is criminal. This is an act of desperation on the part of the coalition Government… they can’t campaign on anything else so they are whipping up sentiments” the Opposition Leader claimed.
Jagdeo pointed to several reasons why the Government had to resort to this means in order to garner support.
“Health care has not improved in Berbice, the Ophthalmology centre is inoperable, no jobs and thousands were left without jobs, no major infrastructural work in the region, so what do they do? Well they have the toll majorly increased in order for them to act like they care for the people when they decrease it” Jagdeo pointed.
Addressing the notion that the bridge was a bad deal hence why it is in its current state, the Opposition Leader said that he will remain proud of his decision to have the bridge constructed.
“I’m proud of the fact that I passed this law and signed an agreement and built the bridge without burdening taxpayers. The toll was similar to what people were paying to cross on the ferry. We are proud of that fact. We are proud also that the fares would have remained constant and that it would eventually have decreased until it is handed to the Government.
“This bridge has been transformational for Berbice and I am being blamed. But I want to say that in my tenure, the airport was started, and the stadium was built in my tenure and the swimming pool, convention centre, many tactical institutions, Linden hospital and water treatment plant, the Skeldon factory, the Leonora Track…contrast that with what they are doing, practically nothing. Since the sixties they talked about building that bridge and nothing so we built it” Jagdeo said as he applauded his Administration.
Moreover, the Opposition Leader urged the Government to to release documents to the public regarding to operations of the bridge.
“PPP is opposed to any increase in the tolls, financially it cannot be justified, we believe that this increase is not part of the contract that we signed, we believe that the Minster must release the document which is a public document and toll order as well as contract because there is no secrecy about this. We urge the Minster to not sign toll order, if they persist in this which we believe is a ploy, PPP will reverse this. We believe that this is a part of a gimmick in the campaign season” he said.
It was announced on Tuesday that to cross the bridge, cars and minibuses will now have to pay $8,040; small trucks, pickups and four-wheel drive vehicles $14,600; medium trucks $27,720; large trucks $49,600; boats $401,040; and freight $1,680.
The increases are expected to take effect on November 12, 2018. (Kizzy Coleman)