By Kurt Campbell
[www.inewsguyana.com] – The combined parliamentary opposition late Thursday night (May 15) voted on a motion calling on Public Works Minister Robeson Benn to make the order, as is mandated, to reduce what it says are exorbitant toll prices for using the Berbice Bridge.
The motion was passed in the House despite strong objections by the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which said the move was a political one and an attack on private investment.
The motion was piloted by APNU’s Joseph Harmon and seconded by Opposition Chief Whip, Amna Ali.
Harmon said the bridge is no doubt an asset, adding that its intangible value is manifested in the reality that people can travel with much more ease and convenience but argued that the toll was too high when compared to the Demerara Harbor Bridge.
Among his proposals are for cars and minibuses which currently pay $2,200 to pay $ 1,000; for cycles to pass free and for four wheel drive vehicles to pay $3,000 instead of $4,000.
Harmon said the current toll structure was a burden on Guyanese people and represents a serious devolution of wealth from the people of Berbice.
Meanwhile, Housing and Water Minister, Irfaan Ali said from the inception, even at the time of construction, the bridge had always been a problem for the Opposition. He said it is clear that the Opposition cannot deal with the fact that the bridge was built by the PPP government.
Ali added that fulfilling the Opposition’s request would prove to be improbable since the government has no direct ownership stake in the company that owns the bridge (the Berbice Bridge Company).
He said the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL) also has no ownership stake in the company and consequently no voting right.
Ali pointed out however, that while the National Insurance Scheme owns twenty percent of ordinary shares, it is only represented by one Director on the Board and no one Director can determine or undermine the decision of the full Board.
Meanwhile, Amna Ali lamented the disparity between prices on the Demerara Harbour Bridge and the Berbice Bridge. She snubbed at Ali’s claims of politicking on the matter.
“We want the toll reduced nothing more nothing less and if you consider it a political issue then so be it.”
Also speaking on the issue was Benn himself, who echoed similar sentiments as his colleague. He made it clear, even before the motion was voted on, that he will not be making any order to reduce the toll. He compared it to tolls paid during the ferry service in 2005 and said the prices now are similar to prices paid then.
In response, Harmon said he was disappointed with the stance taken by the government, adding that Benn’s stance reflects massive arrogance and shows blatant disregard for resolutions of the House.
The Opposition refuted claims that the move was an attack on the private sector and maintained that it was aimed at ensuring affordability for using the bridge by the ordinary man.