Date first published March 12,1988

A Rough Crossing for West Bank Commuters

Food, Fuel In Short Supply In Wake Of Collapse Of Bridge



CHAOS dominates the Demerara River ferry service, flour and other food items are in short supply west of the river and prices have jumped steeply in the wake of the collapse of the Demerara River bridge. Passengers tell of “horror stories in crossing the river on the two ferries which cannot cope with the volume of traffic they now have to handle.

The hassle has resulted in hundreds turning up late for work daily or not bothering to go to work at all. Getting back home after work in the city is another nightmare many said with some saying they get home after 9 o’clock most nights.

One woman was reportedly thrown overboard in a peak hour melee last week but she was rescued, passengers said. Others who have been crushed, suffered dislocated shoulders, twisted inkles and broken arms, they said.

“It’s sheer madness to use those ferries but what can you do if you have no other alternative?” is the chorus of the litany of woes from the helpless commuters who include schoolchildren.

Trampling of the unfortunates caught up in the scramble for stand­ing space on the vessels is a daily happening, particularly in the rush hour in the mornings and after work.

It could not be ascertained if the Transport and Harbours Department (THD) plans to throw more ferries into the Demerara River service until the bridge is repaired, but sources said this is unlikely given the depleted and run-down state of the Department’s fleet.

Diversion of the ‘Malali’ from its re­gular Essequibo River routes to the Demerara River has already thrown the Essequibo Coast and Islands communities into confusion, residents there said. Truck loads of ground provision and other food were reportedly stranded at Adventure stelling with the diversion of the ‘Malali’ because they could not be accommodated on the smaller vessel.



Shop-owners and housewives on the West Demerara and further down the coast say food supplies including flour had this week begun to run short because regular transportation of supplies had been snagged by the crippled bridge.

Food trucks are being given priority berthing among vehicles on the ‘Malali’ by police deployed to put some kind of order into the chaos at the Georgetown and Vreed-en-Hoop stellings.

Fuel trucks were also being given priority placings on the ferry after a fuel shortage developed west of the river with the breakdown of the bridge.

But even for the truck drivers and other motorists who use the ferry service it is a long wait.

“I have been in this queue of cars since two o’clock this afternoon and I still here,” one driver said as he waited his turn around 6 p.m. out­side the Georgetown terminus. He was hoping to get home that night but felt he would have been lucky if he got a crossing before 10 p.m.

Commuters hoping to beat the crush in the ferry havoc, gleefully turned to the makeshift “Service offered by enterprising small-boat owners. But that was snagged when police began hauling in the fishermen plying the route.

They were accused of failing to have proper passenger-carrying facilities on their vessels and five were this week fined $450 each by a city magistrate.

The fallen bridge has also taken its toll on ground provisions, vege­tables and other goods supplies to Georgetown.

Dhanraj, a vendor out­side the Stabroek Mar­ket area said, “every­thing scarce here now. I sell mainly pumpkins and I can’t get enough since the bridge break down.”

For the sellers of plantains and ground provision mainly supplied from across the river the story is the same – not enough coming into the city. And prices have doubled in some cases.

“Some goods coming in on the small boats but these used to come in by trucks over the bridge and enough trucks can’t cross on the ferry now,” Dhanraj said.

The Works and Communication Ministry yesterday could not say how soon the bridge could be repaired and put back into use.

A statement from the Ministry pinned restoration on the acquisition of two ten-ton winches before salvaging of the sunken bridge pontoons and the two collapsed spans could begin.

Two barges equipped to do the lifting operations were expected to be ready by today if the two winches were acquired, the Ministry said.

A restoration time table is still to be worked out and the operation is in limbo until the right equipment is in place, sources said.

It is not yet clear whether repairs are needed to other pontoons before the bridge is re-opened.



Let Freedom Reign

A SOCIETY cannot function efficiently if people are const­antly looking over their shou­lders, afraid to say what they think and unwilling to make decisions. In such a society, the motto is safety first. Say nothing, do little or nothing, if possible think nothing. All wis­dom flows from the top.

This leads to backwardness and stagnation. It is Mr. Gorbachev’s understanding of this that has led to the policies of glasnost and perestroika.

Our newspaper is likewise founded on the proposition that national, social, economic and political issues should be openly and freely discussed and that short of libel or subversion peo­ple should be free to say what they think and take such action as they think fit.

For public discussion to be use­ful it must be well informed. Otherwise, people cannot make sensible decisions. In a situation in which government owns and controls the bulk of the econ­omy this means that govern­ment executives must be free to discuss their business openly. Failing this, the public have no means of finding out about the working of the economy in­cluding the bauxite industry, sugar, electricity, telephones, buses, air travel and a list of other things. Inevitably, they end up being told only what the managers want known, a new information order by press re­lease only.

Surely no analogy can be drawn between the archaic rules applied to the colonial civil service and the modern cor­porations. We are dealing here with people involved in the day to day operation of the econ­omy. If they are to be shut off from public scrutiny, both the public and the politicians will end up woefully ill informed and the press will have nothing better to do than twiddle its thumbs.

As it is, information on the Demerara Harbour Bridge is sparse and efforts to find out what is happening have run a- ground. We appreciate it takes time to get all the facts. But surely the public is entitled to full and frank interim reports. How bad is it? Are the other pontoons safe; or will they have to be inspected and repaired before the bridge is re-opened? What plans and back up plans are being discussed? Trust the people, tell them the problems and what you plan to do. It helps enormously to enlist their understanding, if not their sympathy.

As it is, the daily crossing of the river by the thousands on the West Bank who work in Georgetown has become a horror story of considerable dimensions. Some workers are not getting over at the scheduled times and some not at all. How long will this last? Can any­thing be done?

Not giving information never improves a situation, it makes it worse. It leads to idle specula­tion and rumour. The job of the press is to get information for the people. If it is blocked in­stitutionally, it cannot function properly and the society as a whole will feel the loss.

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