Chartered Accountant and political commentator Christopher Ram believes that the stance taken by government to not increase tolls at the Berbice Bridge is a shaky one. He contends as well that the position taken by the regime and the recent utterances by the Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson is in contravention of the 2006 agreement inked between the State and the investors.
In his recent writings, Ram referred to an article that was posted online by the government’s public relations machine, the Department of Public Information (DPI), which quoted the Minister as assuring all Berbicians and users of the Bridge that the Government is not contemplating any toll increases.
“Minister Patterson seems to believe that it is that simple and simplistic. He must not only be familiar with the Provisions of the Berbice River Bridge Act but also the Concession Agreement dated June 26, 2006 under which the Bridge operates, and over which he exercises ministerial responsibility and has certain obligations to the Bridge Company and its investors,” the Attorney-at-law penned.
Ram noted also that the Concession Agreement was made under the laws of Guyana and obligates the Minister and the Government to grant periodic increases to tolls based on specific indications and circumstances as computed under Schedule 4 to the Concession Agreement.
“The Bridge is a public/private partnership in which the Government made a contribution of land and access roads and the private sector provided the capital funding and the management of the Bridge with financing and operating costs being met out of user tolls. From very early, questions were raised about assumptions on traffic flows and the expectation that the investors would have fully recovered their investments and returns by the time the concession period ends in 2026 and the Bridge is handed over free of cost to the Government.”
The accountant said in the early years, instead of allowing the increases – when the bridge was unable to meet certain obligations – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government purportedly waived certain sums receivable by the National Industrial & Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), as holder of $950 million worth of preference shares.
“Fortunately, for the then Administration, the instalments of several tranches did not become due until later but the chickens have now come home to roost and that reality now confronts the Bridge Company and the current Administration,” Ram said.
In conclusion, Ram insists that the government has no choice but to do what stipulated in the contract, and that is, to increase the tolls.