Govt fails to honour campaign promise to halve tolls, reform structure

first_imgThe Government of Guyana continues to fail to implement and honour several promises it made to the residents of Berbice while it was campaigning for their support under the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition banner. This is according to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who continued to insist on Friday that Government, and the AFC in particular, are involved in political trickery when it comes to the lives of thousands of Guyanese who utilise the US$40 million Berbice River Bridge and its surrounding infrastructure on an almost daily basis.Speaking with Guyana Times during an invited comment, Jagdeo called on Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo to admit that he lied to Berbicians while campaigning in relation to the coalition’s plans for the bridge. If he refuses to do so, then he should simply explain why after three years in office, the coalition has failed to deliver, the Opposition Leader suggested.Jagdeo’s comments gained traction on Friday after video and audio evidence surfaced of Prime Minister Nagamootoo promising Berbicians to halve the tolls they pay to utilise the bridge, should his coalition win executive power.“We will investigate and restructure the ownership of the Berbice Bridge… and our new APNU/AFC will reduce the toll by half,” he said to loud applause during the 2015 elections campaign. Nagamootoo, like other AFC and APNU officials, also promised several other undertakings in relation to the bridge.But when in office, Nagamootoo’s rhetoric changed and shifted. This saw his Government only reducing the tolls from $2200 to $1900 for ordinary vehicles to utilise the bridge.Also, under the new APNU/AFC Government, Dr Surrendra Persaud was appointed Chairman of the BBCI Board of Directors. Soon after, he declared his support openly from the political entity.“It is time for direction; for a new direction for Guyana… the APNU/AFC is the only inclusive political party that will give all of us the opportunity to participate in change to take us, a nation as a people, forward in a new direction. I am proud to be part of the APNU/AFC coalition and I call on all of my patriotic Guyanese brothers and sisters to join in this movement of change,” he said in a campaign advertisement.It was Dr Persaud himself, who announced the proposed toll increases after he claimed the Berbice Bridge had close to $2.8 billion in losses.There are now more questions than answers about the fiasco following the publication of a report in the State media, which quoted the country’s Attorney General Basil Williams as saying that the Government would continue to block the newly proposed toll increases because they are illegal.Williams alleged that the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBC)) was in breach of the Concessionary Agreement signed with the Government of Guyana under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) when one looks at the terms and conditions of the contract between the various parties.The Attorney General dubbed the announcement made by the BCCI Board Chairman Dr Surrendra Persaud as “unilateral” before stating that the Concessionary Agreement clearly states that any bridge toll increase announcement must be “consensual”. The Attorney General also denied that there was any consultation with the Public Infrastructure Minister on the proposed toll increases as compiled by the Board. ‘Quoting various aspects of the agreement, Williams disclosed that the agreement empowers the Minister to determine the maximum amount of toll and makes it even clearer that “only the Minister could publish in the Gazette, the tolls”. Before saying that BCCI’s announcement is of no effect.He even pointed to the other dispute resolution clauses that were carefully drafted into the contract by the PPP in order to protect the Guyanese public from exploitation and under fair tolls that could be followed.Williams’ statements are a far cry away from those made by his colleague Minister David Patterson who appeared to be in ‘panic mode’ following the announcement by the BCCI. Patterson had even told the media that Government was exploring all legal options in the face of the persistence of the BBCI in order to block the toll increases.Minister Patterson on Wednesday said at this point he was open to dialogue with Opposition Leader and former President, Bharrat Jagdeo in order to come up with solutions to block the increase while responding to the concerns of Directors of the BCCI in order to resolve the impasse but Jagdeo said something seems amiss as the Minister, who has been in office since 2015, ought to know that there was nothing in the contract signed by the PPP that makes room for such exorbitant increases.Meanwhile, Minister of State Joseph Harmon at the post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday said that the proposed toll increases are unconscionable and burdensome not to Berbicians but all Guyanese. While noting that Cabinet is firm in its non-acceptance of the increases, he hopes that good sense will prevail in the matter.Cars and minibuses will now be charged $8040; pickups, small trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles, $14,600; medium trucks, $27,720; large trucks, $49,600; Art trucks, $116,680; freight, $1680 and boats passing through the river will be charged $401,040. (Michael Younge)last_img