Decision on financing for Corentyne River Bridge expected by end of first quarter – Pres Santokhi

Proposed Design for Corentyne River Bridge

By Vahnu Manikchand

President Dr Irfaan Ali and his Surinamese counterpart, Chandrikapersad Santokhi, are expected to decide on the financing of the much-anticipated Corentyne River Bridge, which would link the two neighbouring countries.

This is according to President Santokhi during an interview with Guyana Times on the sidelines of the recently concluded Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government Conference, held in Georgetown last week.

Initially, the plan was to have the bridge built according to a design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) model, meaning that whichever company is contracted to build the bridge would be responsible for its design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance. The bridge was also to have been constructed via a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement.

In October 2023, two companies – Dutch engineering company Ballast Nedam and Chinese-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) – submitted proposals to build the bridge over the Corentyne River to link Guyana and Suriname. However, those companies have since indicated that they are unable to meet the pre-financing requirement.

President Dr Irfaan Ali and his Surinamese counterpart, Chandrikapersad Santokhi

According to President Santokhi, a decision has been taken to have the team of ministers from Guyana and Suriname, who are collaborating on this project, meet with the technicians and come up with a final proposal on the way forward, to be presented to him and President Ali.

“The two presidents, of Guyana and Suriname, with the ministers, will take a decision, and that is planned for this first quarter of this year…That is the planning; and we hope that we can handle it by the end of March or the beginning of April, so that we can start with the building of the bridge,” the Surinamese Leader explained.

In the meantime, President Santokhi has said, there are financial institutions that are willing to fund the construction of the bridge across the Corentyne River, which would serve as a critical infrastructure for regional integration. He noted that informal discussions were held with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which has indicated an interest in financing the project.

“The companies should come with prefinancing, but they are not interested in that modality, so we’re looking for other types of financing. There are institutions from the region and outside the region who are willing to finance it. It can either be [through] the company, or it can be the State; but, you know, our case is a little bit different, because we are bound by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme, so we cannot take the loan. So, we need to be very pragmatic in this, so that is the advice that we’re looking for,” the Surinamese Head of State noted.

The Corentyne River Bridge is one of the first agreements between Presidents Ali and Santokhi, with both Heads previously underscoring the critical role the bridge would play in advancing cooperation, creating more opportunities for development for both countries.

In May of 2022, a US$2 million contract was signed in Paramaribo for several preliminary studies and research to be conducted on the Corentyne bridge by WSP Caribbean. The Expressions of Interest (EoIs) were also simultaneously launched.

Then in June 2023, WSP Caribbean presented the design of the Corentyne River bridge to Public Works Minister Juan Edghill and his Surinamese counterpart, Minister Riad Nurmohamed, of a two-section structure that is connected via an island (Long Island) to link Guyana and Suriname. The design also features a two-lane bridge with accommodation for a third lane in case of an emergency.

It has been noted that this presentation by the WSP technical team was made ahead of the final report, which will detail other aspects of their study, such as the cost of the bridge, traffic projections, design of the road, financial and economic evaluation, and environmental assessment, among other key elements.

This information would have helped the pre-qualified bidders to prepare and submit their proposals.

Six international companies – five Chinese firms and one Dutch company from The Netherlands – had submitted bids for the construction of the Corentyne River bridge. The bids were opened at the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) in Georgetown back in August 2023.

The high-span Corentyne River bridge would be approximately 3.1 kilometres in length, and would connect Moleson Creek in Guyana to South Drain in Suriname, with a landing on Long Island in the Corentyne River, where a commercial hub and tourist destination would be established. That free zone would see major infrastructural development, such as hotels, recreational parks, entertainment spots, tourist attractions, malls, and farmers’ markets.

Running from Moleson Creek to Long Island, the bridge would be a low-level structure, approximately one kilometre long, with a 2200-metre (2.2km) road across Long Island and a high bridge spanning 2100 metres (2.1km) thereafter.

The high end of the bridge would facilitate marine traffic and cater for 40,000 to 45,000 DWT (deadweight tonnage) capacity featuring a vertical (height) clearance of 43 metres and a horizonal (width) clearance of about 100 metres.

Upon completion, the bridge would not only link the two neighbouring countries, but would also open up access to greater economic opportunities beyond them, into French Guiana and, through the road network being developed, into Brazil, and eventually further into South America.