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(CMC) – The Guyana government Monday said it had taken control of the Berbice Bridge in the interest of public safety amid efforts by the company operating the facility for hefty increase in the toll paid by motorists and other users.
Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson, said in a statement that the David Granger administration had agreed that “the functions of the Concessionaire to maintain and operate the Bridge shall be exercised by the Government of Guyana as of 5th November 2018 until the date the Minister specifies by notice on the cessation of the threat to public safety”.
He said that the government would do everything in its powers to alleviate disruption to the public and ensure that the assumption of these functions is as smooth as possible.
“The truth is, too many of our citizens are dependent on the continuous operations and use of the Berbice Bridge and we should not allow anyone to unreasonably and capriciously endanger their livelihood and public order in one of our vital regions,” Patterson said.
Last month, the government said that it would not sanction the new increases in the toll as announced by the Berbice River Bridge (BRB) company describing the move as “unreasonable”.
The BRB had announced that effective November 12, there would be a significant increase in the toll after indicating that it had no other alternative.
“The company, unfortunately, has accumulated losses in excess of GUY$2.8 billion (One Guyana dollar=US$0.004 cents), has never paid dividends to its ordinary shareholders and is now in default of obligations to its numerous stakeholders, including the NIS (National Insurance Scheme),” said BRB chief executive officer, Dr. Surendra Persaud.
Persaud said there appears to be a fallacy that the required adjustment in tolls will benefit the shareholders. He said under the new toll, the company will be charging GUY$8040 to cross the bridge while pick-ups and 4 wheel drive vehicles will be asked to pay GUY$14,600.
Mini-buses will have to pay GUY$8,040 while small trucks will see their bills going to GUY$14,600. Additionally, the company wants medium trucks to pay GUY$27, 720, large trucks GUY $49,600, freight would have to pay GUY$1,680.
Last week, the company is reported to have sent a letter to the government indicating that it wanted an extension of the concession on the bridge by 19 years and that failure to do so would allow it to put the increases into effect.
Patterson said the Ministry of Public Infrastructure would like to assure the citizens of Berbice and the public in general that there will be no change to the present toll structure and all exemptions presently in place will remain in effect.
“Equally, there will be no change to the staffing complement, contractors and suppliers as we transition into this new and hopefully temporary arrangement”.
Patterson said the government and the BBC have been engaged in a public dispute regarding a unilateral announcement on October 16, 2018 by the company to impose “draconian toll increases at the Berbice River Bridge.”