AFC says gov’t stake in Berbice bridge co. amounts to ownership

-renews call for toll reduction

With the government holding three quarters of the share capital of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI), the AFC has questioned the administration’s claim that it is a private entity, calling it an excuse to rebuff demands for a reduction of the bridge toll.

In a press release issued last Wednesday, the party repeated its demand for a subsidy for the company or a reduction of the bridge toll, saying that the high toll was a penalty especially to school children and small cash-crop farmers who use the facility daily.

The AFC noted that while President Donald Ramotar had rejected its repeated demands for a reduction, it is committed to supporting a subsidy whether covered by central government funding or by way of reduction of dividends accrued to the state-owned business-arm, the National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL).

The party contrasted the cost of the toll of $100 for an ordinary vehicle crossing the government-owned and controlled Demerara Harbour Bridge with the toll of $2,200 for crossing the Berbice River Bridge.

According to the party, the Demerara Harbour Bridge, a state-run business, has been allocated amounts between $300 million and $500 million annually for maintenance. During the 2013 Budget debates, the AFC had argued that the government should at least allocate a $150 million subsidy for Berbice Bridge toll.

It said that President Ramotar refused and had sheltered behind the excuse that the Berbice Bridge was privately-owned.

However, the AFC questioned whether the BBCI was indeed a private company. It said that the company’s records show that it had $400 million worth of ordinary shares and $950 million in preference shares, representing a total of $1,350 million. Further, it noted that the government through the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and NICIL, two state-owned entities, owned $1,030 million or 76.3% of the total share capital of the company, with $80 million in ordinary shares and $950 million in preference shares.

According to Section 344 of the Companies Act, a “Government company” is defined as “any company in which not less that fifty-one per cent of the paid up share capital is held by the Government and includes a company which is a subsidiary of a Government company,” it noted.

The AFC said that NICIL is a wholly-owned government company which, together with the NIS, owned over three-quarters of the Berbice Bridge Company’s capital. “So, why is this company being deemed a private company?” it asked, while also questioning  whether the President had misspoken, whether he was badly-informed or advised, or was simply ducking from the demand to ease the burden of commuters on the Berbice crossing.

The AFC also said that NICIL was dominated by government players, with its chairman being the Finance Minister and with Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon and Minister Robert Persaud being directors, while the CEO is Winston Brassington.

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