Works Minister Robeson Benn says communities with schools, religious buildings and community centres will always receive priority for road upgrades.
“The Guyanese people come first,” Benn told the National Assembly last Friday afternoon as he made his contribution to the ongoing budget debates.
APNU MP Annette Ferguson, during her presentation, had also lamented the state of roads and bridges countrywide and urged that a people-focused policy is put in place for physical infrastructure transformation.
“Public infrastructure must serve the people and the people must be the centre of it and not that the people must serve
the public infrastructure, which is currently happening,” Ferguson told the National Assembly.
Ferguson pointed out that while $13.7 billion has been budgeted to improve roads and bridges, where $12.9 billion is to go towards roads and $844.2 million for bridges, it was not enough.
She said that checks done on some of the city’s streets reflect deplorable roads and these have been the cause of many protests by residents over the year.
“Bridges and roads remain a major challenge for our people on a daily basis. In 2013, we saw and read of citizens taking actions into their hands, that is, by way of protesting and blocking of roads in their respective communities, just to get the attention of the relevant authorities to address their problems,” she asserted.
Ferguson said that APNU believes that the only way there will be change in infrastructural development is to hold long overdue local government elections.
She also said that she wanted the assurance of Benn that the roads of communities in Sophia and Kaneville, among others, be fixed.
She argued that the best solution for road repair was to cap the entire stretch of the bad road instead of “road patching and pot hole filling.”
Benn also brought up the criteria for road upgrades after he claimed to have been accosted by APNU MP Basil Williams to fix the “craters” and “potholes” on the road in front of Williams’s home. “You’ll have to wait,” he told Williams.
Apparently slighted by Benn’s reference, Williams stood to explain his situation.
The APNU member told the National Assembly that the road in front of PPP/C MP Odinga Lumumba’s house was fixed while his was left undone. Williams and Lumumba are neighbours. Lumumba, however, stood and clarified that he had paid an engineer to fix the road in front of house and that Williams was “too cheap” to do the same.
At this point, House Speaker Raphael Trotman warned that the House was deviating from the intended debate.
Benn then stood again and proceeded to outline various development projects that are to be facilitated with the ministry’s proposed $22.4 billion allocation this year.
While work will be done on several bridges, the Demerara Harbour Bridge has received the largest allocation as government looks to keep it functional for at least another seven years, by which time its replacement is expected to be completed. Benn noted that 23 expressions of interest were received for the construction of the new bridge, and that the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board is working on a committee to evaluate the bids so that progress can be made towards having the bridge in six years’ time.
He said that $338 million has been proposed for the purchase of extra-large pontoons, sheet tackles, and the rehabilitation of existing pontoons and the bridge’s hydraulics system to make it safe and operational.
He also said that the ministry is working to improve the lighting bollards and cluster piles system to prevent serious damage that could affect the service. The latter provisions are to prevent marine vessels from running into the bridge, as was the case last year.
Last year, six million vehicles crossed the bridge. The number constitutes a 5.5 per cent increase over the 2012 figure and Benn says it is expected to increase again this year. The bridge generated revenue of $479 million last year, Benn said, including a $115 million surplus that will be used to facilitate maintenance works.
He added that the ministry will be looking to decrease loading on the bridge, while increasing the number of water taxis that ply the river route between the east and west banks of the Demerara River.
Bridges will also be constructed in Sophia, Guyhoc Park and Moleson Creek.
Benn also referred to road works being executed across the country. The East Bank and East Coast road widening projects, he said, have encountered some problems and were delayed as a result. Inclement weather was an inhibiting factor to works in both cases, while the removal of utilities held back works along the East Bank. He also said that the quarry sector has not been producing enough stones to meet local demands, necessitating an encouragement from the ministry to procure the much needed material overseas. He said the local quarries would need to increase efficiency by 40 per cent before they can begin to satisfy demand at home.
Both sets of projects are supposed to be completed before the end of the year. The minister also spoke of the Sheriff Street/Mandela Avenue project. Under this project, roads will be widened, while bicycle lanes, sidewalks, parking spots, and possibly an overhead walkway will be installed. The purpose of the project is to ease congestion in the city, and create an alternate corridor from the East Coast to the East Bank.
Meanwhile, the designs for works to be done on the road running from Vreed-en-Hoop to Parika has been completed. Benn said that the prequalification of contractors are ongoing, and that works are expected to start towards the end of this year. The project will be funded by the Caribbean Development Bank at a cost of US$34 million.
Also, the fourth quarter of this year will see the commencement of works to the East Bank Berbice Road. Benn said that the work will bring relief to persons in the area and open up agricultural lands there.
He also said that Guyana’s sea defences, despite the negative reportage, are under good management and are given good attention based on the condition they are in. Whenever there is overtopping, he said, warnings are issued, and he added that overtopping is sometimes misrepresented as breaches, which is not the case.
He revealed that 5.5 kilometers of critical sea defences will be attended to via funds to be made available by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
Also, under the 10th Sea Defence Fund, a financing agreement was signed with the European Union (EU) for 14 million euros to be contributed to the sea defence sector. These funds will be made available as budget support as the EU has confidence in the Guyana government to effectively execute such projects, Benn said.
Meanwhile, Benn also signaled government’s intentions to move ahead with the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri. The expansion project, he said, will pave the way for jumbo jets to land in Guyana, thereby attracting additional services to operate in Guyana.