Despite raising the toll for local vessels to transit through the Berbice Bridge retractor opening by more than 300% almost a month ago, the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) is yet to provide an explanation for the decision.
In a notice published last month, the BBCI advised “all mariners, vessel owners, masters, agents, pilots and captains of vessels that all vessels shall be required to pay GYD$55,000 … to transit through the Retractor opening in accordance with the Berbice River Bridge (Toll) Order 2009.” The new rate represents a 300% increase from the previous fee of $18,000.
However, while the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce (UCCC) has said there was no consultation on the decision, efforts by this newspaper to get a comment from the BBCI have been unsuccessful.
Stabroek News made multiple calls to the company since the announcement but was told that the Company’s Secretary, who is the only person authorised to issue a statement and make a comment, was not available.
Multiple calls throughout the month garnered the same response and then Stabroek News was subsequently told to email the questions approximately two weeks ago. However, although questions were emailed on July 5, no response has been received.
Stabroek News made another call to the company on Monday and was told that the email was received with the questions but management had not given the authorisation to provide the answers.
After the announcement of the toll increase was made, the UCCC President Krishnand Jaichand and several businessmen had said they do not support the move by the company and that it would only affect the local economy negatively.
“What I’m really concerned about is that the basis they made the increase and it’s over 300%. It is …more burden for the people plying the Berbice River,” Jaichand had said, while emphasising that he was not in support of the Bridge Company’s decision to increase the rates.
He had also explained that while the Chamber has about 10 members who all operate vessels on the Berbice River, all are against the move. “The consensus is that it is more pressure on them in terms of doing business and they would have to absorb the cost because it cannot filter down to the employees or even the customers,” Jaichand had added.
He said that the move is going to indirectly affect the local economy since the vessel operators will now have to absorb the heavy increase in tolls. “It’s a competition and people might not want to pay but you will have to pay it. I don’t support it because you can’t just wake up and say that you increase without consultation,” he said, while stating that the Chamber was not consulted on the move to increase the tolls by the Bridge Company.
Businessman, Sadiq Zaladin, of Zaladin Indus-trial, who oversees two vessels that traverse the Berbice River regularly, as well as two vessels that transit the route about twice a week, had said that the new toll would only make it harder for him to do business. “In today’s business, the profit margin is the skin of your teeth. So, when you start to pay this additional increase, then your profit margin will decrease and it’s either you absorb it or you can put it on the customer but sometimes they cry out and you have to absorb it yourself,” he had said.
Other businessmen and vessel owners were also contacted, who shared the same sentiments as Zaladin and Jaichand. The men concluded that the move would be bad for business and will only see less money being circulated in the local economy.
“We will just be paying drastically more to the bridge and that means that we have less to spend. Our operational cost just went up by $37,000 one way and that’s a lot of money if you think about all the trips you does make a week and how much in total you gonna be spending back,” another businessman, who did not want to be named, had told Stabroek News.