Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson is currently awaiting legal advice from Attorney the General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, before engaging the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI).
“the Attorney General is providing some legal advice, and at the end of that, I will engage them and move forward from there,” the subject Minister told this media group on Tuesday, adding that he has indicated this to the BBCI chairman, Dr Surendra Persaud.
Dr Persaud disclosed two weeks ago that the company is facing bankruptcy, and as such had made proposals to increase its tolls by as much 300 per cent in some cases, to keep the Berbice Bridge afloat.
Toll increases have been strongly opposed by Government, but Minister Patterson has said due consideration may be given to this matter. He said last week that Government would continue to engage the BBCI for alternative solutions that do not include passing on increases to consumers.
In his objection to the toll increase proposal, Patterson last week pointed out that Government was already subsidising the Bridge, and giving it more financial support might be a major task.
Moreover, he added that “We have a commitment to the people of Berbice. The Berbice Act that was passed stopped any other means of transporting cars across the Berbice River. So, therefore, obviously it is the Bridge, and obviously, we can’t leave persons stranded. And we have to do whatever we have to do to ensure that it is sustainable.”
That therefore leaves the Government with no option but to subsidise the BBCI.
Despite rejecting the proposed 300 per cent toll increase, Government has said it would continue to work with the BBCI to ensure that the Bridge was sufficiently maintained and is safe for vehicular and marine use.
Based on the announcement made by the BBCI with regard to the proposed increase in tolls, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has announced his disagreement with the increased tolls, but has since encouraged the coalition Government to buy more equity in the Company.
Jagdeo reasoned that Berbicians could not afford the steep increases that the company has proposed at this time. He said this was mainly so because the BBCI was contractually obligated to maintain the Bridge. Instead, he thinks that Government could buy out other shareholders, so the Bridge becomes publicly-owned.
“Secondly, subsidise the increase that should take place in the toll, so they give an injection into the company so the rate remains flat.” This formula, according to Jagdeo, would entail taking over the debt of the Bridge and securing greater equity in return.
In the July 9th application to Government, the BCCI requested that the toll increases take effect from August 1. The new tolls proposed by the BBCI would see cars and minibuses paying $8040 to cross the Bridge; pickups, small trucks and four-wheel-drive vehicles $14,600; medium trucks $27,720; large trucks $49,600; articulated trucks $116,800; and boats $401,040.