Finance Minister justifies rejecting BBCI’s meeting request

first_img…as Govt’s reluctance to resolve issue intensifiesOne day after the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) came out declaring that Finance Minister Winston Jordan had denied a request to meet, though the Private Sector Commission (PSC) had sought to set it up, the Minister has since come out to say it is premature.Jordan told media operatives on Wednesday that he did not receive a letter from the BBCI itself requesting any meeting, but that he in fact received one from the PSC.“I got a letter from the PSC requesting a meeting. I sent a response indicating that the request was premature and that the matter is being honoured by the Attorney General Chambers,” he indicated.BBCI’s Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, Paul Cheong who highlighted concerns with what he said were lies being peddled in a section of media with regards to the reason why the company was forced to increase its tolls.He said, “It would be of interest to the public to know that BBCI asked the PSC toFinance Minister Winston Jordanuse its good offices to arrange an urgent meeting with the Minister of Finance in the matter of the toll adjustment and that the Minister of Finance has refused to entertain the request.”Ever since the announcement by the BBCI Chairman, Dr Surendra Persaud, the company hopes to implement an increase, the Government has shown a high level of reluctance to meet with the company, and has made known its intention not to buy out the Bridge.Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson has stated that a Government buyout of the BBCI is not economically feasible and the Government’s proposed annual subsidy is the best option to reduce tolls for travellers. He said Government has a restrictive financial budget.Questioned further during a recent press conference, the Minister said that no consideration will be given to taking over the Bridge. However, in the same breath he said Government is committed to a reduction of the tolls and not the other way around.He further explained that if such consideration is ever given, Government will have to honor payments to shareholders and a number of other issues will have to be ironed out. According to him, the final pay-out for the Bridge would be significantly greater than it appears now.However, there have been persistent calls for Government to move in that direction to avoid placing a heavy burden on Guyanese living in the Berbice region and others.Outspoken political activist and former Presidential Advisor Ramon Gaskin, a trained economist is suggesting a total buyout of the bridge by Government so as to resolve the issue.“You don’t need to make a profit, just cover maintenance and pay the NIS interest on their investment and you could lower the rate to where it was and it could go lower,” he advised.On the other hand, Gaskin also suggested that NIS could put in for receivership. This is a remedy available to secured creditors to recover amounts outstanding under a secured loan in the event the company defaults on its loan payments.Overseas-based economist Professor Tarron Khemraj also feels that Government should buy over the Berbice Bridge in its entirety. He said the Bridge is now financially unsustainable, as compared to when the proposal for its construction was implemented.He said that once the Government owns the bridge, some decisions would have to be made to address the high operating costs. According to him, decisions would have to be made with the objective of motivating private sector employment in Berbice.A former advisor to the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj is also opposed to increasing the Bridge tolls, especially because the traffic flow to accommodate the higher tolls is not there.At this stage, Khemraj said, it is clear the bridge has a dimension of higher public good than the private aspect. Therefore, he recommended, Government should buy out all of the shares.As per the increases, 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.The proposed increases are scheduled to take effect on November 12 and as the time draws closer to the date set for the imposition of fare increases at the Berbice River Bridge, there continues to be great worry over whether this could in fact take effect, or whether the Government would step in and reverse the decision.last_img read more