Jagdeo queries land, tolls for new Demerara River bridge

With Government announcing that construction of the new Demerara Harbour Bridge will begin next year, several concerns need to be urgently addressed and more specifically as it relates to funding and land acquisition, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday said.

“There are questions to answered and publicly… will there be subsidy to cushion the tolls, what will be the tolls, what about supporting infrastructure, guarantee for debt?” Jagdeo questioned.

Comparing the presentations by the Dutch company Lievense CSO Consultants, which carried out the feasibility study and design for the new bridge, Jagdeo produced a dossier of information on the Berbice Bridge as he underlined his argument that more information is needed on the project before the government goes ahead.

“The government needs to tell us now how much money they would put into this project and where it would come from,” Jagdeo said as he noted that estimates for the project are between US$150- US$180M.

The Opposition Leader also questioned the circumstances surrounding the choice of the location, Houston to Versailles, while alleging that former People’s National Congress Reform executive and businessman, Stanley Ming owns most of the land on the West Bank of Demerara that government will have to purchase.

Asked if he had evidence that Ming was the owner of the property to be bought by government Jagdeo answered in the affirmative.

“Mr. Stanley Ming made a presentation in 2015 named ‘Guyana 2030’. He was a member of APNU…in his plan he had two bridges to be built across the Demerara River; one further up and one at Houston-Versailles. So miraculously now this feasibility study finds that location the most feasible,” Jagdeo said.

“Guess who’s land on the Versailles side (that) the bridge terminates, Mister Stanley Ming, so this is another miracle,” he added.

Stabroek News attempted to contact Ming for comment but calls to his phone went unanswered.

The proposed bridge is expected to be approximately 2 kilometres north of the existing floating bridge, spanning Houston on the eastern bank of the Demerara River to Versailles on the western bank of the Demerara River. The project will see the construction of an approximately 1,500m long fixed bridge with a movable span and two approach roads of a total length of 600m. It is envisaged that the project will commence in 2018 and will be delivered in 2020.

Three locations were identified back in 2013 for the proposed bridge and four more alignments were subsequently considered. A prefeasibility study was done and all the options remained.

But Jagdeo says that while the Houston-Versailles location was touted, former Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn says that the main option was decommissioning the old bridge and rebuilding right at the site. It is unclear what government will do with the old bridge when the new one is built.

The Ministry of Public Infrastructure last month announced that it will be soon embarking on the process of pre-qualifying contractors for the construction of a new Demerara River Bridge.

According to a statement issued by the ministry, contractors will be pre-qualified for the finance, design, building, and maintenance components of the new bridge.

It said these works will be procured through public tendering, with a restricted number of bidders.

“The procurement process will be a two-phase one: the current pre-qualification phase and the bidding phase. In the pre-qualification phase, three contractors will be shortlisted and requested to submit designs and offer a fixed price lump sum bid for the design and construction of the bridge and approach roads,” it explained.

It added that the shortlisting of the bidders shall be on the basis of the profile, track record, and financial capacity of the applicants as well as on the merit of the technical, cost and financing proposals presented by applicants in their pre-qualification document.

Furthermore, in order to improve the funding package, it said that applicants for shortlisting are requested to advance proposals for financing the project.

Non-disclosure

The ad also stated if a company required the attachments to the pre-qualification document it would need to be specifically requested by sending a formal written request, including the background of the company and the signed non-disclosure agreement.

The non-disclosure aspect of the requirements has irked Jagdeo who yesterday laced into the APNU+AFC government saying that for a party that championed transparency, having companies sign to keeping the contract secret was hypocritical.

Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson came in for criticism since Jagdeo said he (Patterson) had only days before the advertisement promised transparency for all projects his government undertakes.

“On August 21st he says this is a feature of the PPP; that everything done under the PPP (is withheld) and they would never do it and then on the 10th of September … a bid comes out and it speaks about a non-disclosure agreement that the contractors would have to sign. The duplicity of the APNU+AFC government I am telling you,” Jagdeo lamented.

“They have gone quiet on the reasons they gave for the non-disclosure on the oil and gas agreement after we exposed that we did not pass any amendment to the law preventing any disclosure of the contract which they were using as an excuse for not releasing that contract,” he added as he also noted that to date the contract signed with ExxonMobil was not public.

He said that Patterson was keeping secret many aspects of the bridge project and is not answering questions noted during the Lievense presentation as it pertains to financing and debt burden to Guyana’s citizenry.

He warned that given a US$150M estimated cost for the construction of the bridge it could turn out to be a burden to taxpayers long into the future since he believes it would take at least ten years before the bridge turns a profit.  This is because the consultant’s report assumes conditions that the tolls will remain the same. “If we go ahead with this project, it will be a corrupt project and it will saddle us with debt long into the future,” he charged.

The report, he says, states that decisions to be taken and choices to be made would have to focus on government’s involvement; how much, in what form, from, which period of the project life and financing.

Behemoth

Stabroek News reached out to Patterson yesterday but was told by the ministry’s public relations officer, Desilon Daniels, that he was tied up in budget consultation meetings.

However, she pointed to a video the ministry has on its website and Facebook page that answers questions on the bridge project.

In that video, the ministry boasts that construction of the new Demerara River Bridge and connecting roads is expected to be a behemoth in infrastructural development.

Using virtual reality effects, the video gives an artist’s impression of the proposed structure and its workings.

“It was also established that the Houston-Versailles location was the most ideal location out of all of the options that were considered, following the consideration of a number of factors; including environmental impacts, land acquisition, travel time and congestion. This link was the most … economically, environmentally and technically feasible option,” the video states as it gave a breakdown of the project.

The video does not go into the proposed financials of the project.

Ralston Adams, current Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation General Manager and this Project’s Manager, for his part said that government had conducted a public stakeholder’s engagement which was held at the Pegasus Hotel and that following that it received 15 expressions of interest in the project.

From that list he explained that three companies would be shortlisted and they would be invited to submit bids.

“We had a very good turnout we are in process of the prequel I am pleased to announce that we have had 15 companies that have shown interest in the prequalification. We have had companies from Holland, China, India, France, Panama, United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago. We will then conduct evaluation and shortlist three contractors who will then be invited to submit bids for this process. We will be conducting the environmental studies that is expected to commence shortly,” Adams explained.

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