Guyana: Jagdeo says bridge take over is “political gimmick”

By CMC

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Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

(CMC) – Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo Wednesday described as “an election gimmick,” the decision of the Guyana government to temporarily take over control of the operations of the Berbice Bridge even as he said he does not support the company’s move for a long-term expansion of its concession agreement.

“This issue about nationalization and taking over private property, we don’t agree with it, because we are seeking similar models to construct other bridges and hydro power and so on,” Jagdeo told a news conference.

He said the David Granger government should consider hiring a financial analyst instead of seeking to use the bridge for political mileage ahead of the Local Government election scheduled for November 12.

“This is what we are faced with. It is an election gimmick,” he said.

The Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBC) Tuesday said it would comply with the “unlawful” decision by the Guyana government to take control of the operations of the bridge following a disagreement with the authorities on the implementation of increased toll.

“The Berbice Bridge Company Inc. considers, based on legal advice, that the Order is unlawful and ultravires under Section 11of the Berbice River Bridge Act on which it is based,” the company said in a statement.

Government Monday said it had taken control of the bridge in the interest of public safety and Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson, said in a statement 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.

But the BBC said while it had agreed to comply with “unlawful” toll order to temporarily take over the maintenance and operations of the bridge, it has written to the relevant Minister Tuesday requesting that he supplies the company with a statement seeking the facts and reasons on which the Order is based.

Jagdeo told reporters that the Public Infrastructure Minister did not have to take over the maintenance and operations of the bridge from November 5, because there was no issue with the safety there.

He said Patterson should have blocked the company from introducing any high toll that would have gone into effect on the same day of the election.

“I suspect the takeover will last for the remaining five days before the elections and immediately after, we will resume normal business. The toll will not be adjusted because it can’t be justified,” Jagdeo said, insisting the whole affair was merely a political gimmick.

The contract for the BBC and all of the accompanying laws were done under the Jagdeo presidency and he acknowledged Wednesday that the present government had used a provision in the laws, signed into effect by him as President, to take control of the bridge.

Last month, the government said that it would not sanction the new increases in the toll as announced by the BBC describing the move as “unreasonable”.

The BBC 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 BBC chief executive officer, Dr. Surendra Persaud.

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