PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee has defended the arrangements for the Berbice Bridge tolls, while saying the opposition-led parliamentary motion for their reduction is a “direct intrusion on a private investment” that is aimed at scaring the investors off.
“The Berbice River Bridge is a government/ private sector/international investors project with specific arrangements which were agreed upon. This arrangement is not unique to Guyana and is a norm in other countries,” Rohee said at the party’s weekly press briefing at Freedom House on Monday.
He said that the private investors would have calculated a rate that was appropriate. He added that he did not see the Berbice Bridge Company as a group of “tyrants” that was out to “get as much as they want.”
He warned that if the opposition got its way, there would be severe consequences in future public-private partnership agreements but he did not go into details about what these would be. When questioned by the media on the bridge company’s 12 percent return on investment per annum, Rohee noted that he was not concerned with the financial argument because it was part of the larger political argument being used by APNU and he reiterated that the opposition was interested in chasing investors away.
Last Friday, the opposition successfully passed a motion in the National Assembly for a reduction in the tolls, including for the toll on cars and minibuses to be slashed from $2,200 to $1,000. However, Minister of Transport Robeson Benn stated that the government would not comply and that an economic analysis of the initiative would be necessary first.
“I will not reduce the toll. I will not reduce the toll to any person in Guyana until by economic modeling and defining we can determine that it would be a benefit to the Berbice Bridge Company and the shareholders and the people of Guyana as a result,” Benn told the National Assembly.
APNU MP Joseph Harmon, who brought the motion in December last year, stressed that the “exorbitant” charges for the Berbice Bridge crossing were literally taking a toll on the pockets of Berbicians.
Rohee had stated that the opposition’s concerns for Berbicians were steeped in falsehood and instead the goal of the motion was to create a division with public-private ventures.
The motion, which was submitted in December by Harmon, stated that “the toll for crossing the Berbice River is exceedingly high when compared to a similar crossing of the Demerara River and represents a significant devolution of wealth from the people of Berbice in particular to the benefit of a private company.”
Harmon had argued that the government had the ability to empower the Public Works Minister to adjust the tolls which is provided under the law to alleviate the financial burden of the bridge on Berbicians.
During Monday’s briefing, Rohee stated that he could not recall whether the bridge tolls were lowered to facilitate the PPP’s 30th Congress last year, as has been claimed. The Bridge Company has said that the reduction was done to facilitate the increase in the travel of students during the August holidays.
However, Benn has said that this reduction was illegal and he revealed that his ministry did not give approval for such reductions and that he had warned the company about doing the same thing this year.