In the wake of a recent announcement that the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI) intends to increase its fares, the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce is calling for a reduction on the current tolls.
Moreover, the Chamber is criticizing the proposed toll increases which are scheduled to come into effect on November 12.
During an emergency meeting of the Chamber to discuss the issue, members expressed shock, astonishment and anger at the recent amended fare structure put out by the BBCI.
In a release the Chamber said it wondered if the Company wanted to throttle and strangle the survival of the citizens of Berbice.
It noted that with the current economy of East Berbice being in a depressed state following the closure and retrenchment of thousands of GuySuCo employees, it is extremely insulting to the citizens to now be faced with this “horrendous” increase in fares.
As a matter of fact, members of the Chamber are asking for the present fare of $1900 for motorcars and buses to be reduced to $1500.
According to the Chamber, the biggest issue for Berbicians that the government and the bridge owners have to address is that Berbicians cannot afford to pay the present fare, much less an increase of almost 400 per cent.
According to the release, the Chamber being cognizant of the fact that the Berbice River Bridge is the only vehicular link to the rest of Guyana, it is asking the Government to buy out existing shareholders, since the Company is unable to show a profit in operations to guarantee returns to their shareholders.
The Chamber said that while “we are sympathetic to the shareholders of the bridge being a private company and they should have a reasonable rate of return in investment, the bottom line is the people cannot afford it.”
The appalling effects of the fare increases, should it be effected, would cripple Berbice and place the citizens in endless misery the statement said.
The business representative organisation is calling on the Bridge Company, the Government, and the Opposition to urgently have discussions to find a solution that would entail no increase to Berbicians but a possible decrease in fares.
The Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had said that it is ‘categorically opposed’ to any increase in the Berbice Bridge tolls.
In a statement on the issue, the Party, under whose tenure in Government the bridge was created, said that it advanced the construction of the bridge across the Berbice River with no additional burden to Guyanese taxpayers.
The PPP also said that had the A Partnership for National Unity/ Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration continued with the financial model that was used by them then there would have been no proposed increases of this magnitude.
Moreover, the PPP posited that if “there is any move by the APNU+AFC Coalition Government to sign a toll order to bring into effect the proposed increases, the People’s Progressive Party commits to reversing the increase after the 2020 General and Regional Elections.”
According to the Party, the incumbent Administration has failed to implement and honour several promises it made to the residents of Berbice while it was campaigning for their support in the run-up to the 2015 Elections.
Meanwhile, Minister of State Joseph Harmon at the post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday said that the proposed toll increases are unconscionable and burdensome not only to Berbicians but all Guyanese. While noting that Cabinet is firm in its non-acceptance of the increases, he hopes that good sense will prevail in the matter.
The new tolls were announced by BBCI Chairman Dr Surendra Persaud, during a press conference on Tuesday last.
Cars and minibuses will now be charged $8040; pickups, small trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles, $14,600; medium trucks, $27,720; large trucks, $49,600; Art trucks, $116,680; freight, $1680 and boats passing through the river will be charged $401,040.