Gov’t wants no debt shackle with new bridge

-Patterson says in response to Chinese Ambassador

An artist’s impression of the new Demerara Harbour Bridge (Ministry of Public Infrastructure rendering)

Responding to criticisms by the Chinese Ambassador of the design of the new proposed Demerara Harbour Bridge, Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson says the government here will not take on debt that could possibly shackle the country.

Chinese Ambassador to Guyana, Cui Jianchun recently said that the current proposal for the New Demerara River crossing was not modern and China should be given the opportunity to lend funds to build a “21st century” one.

The new proposed Demerara River bridge  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

Patterson stressed that his government would not be lured into borrowing huge sums of money that would leave taxpayers under strain to repay in the future and was very mindful of similar situations in sister CARICOM nations.

“We are great friends and colleagues of the People’s Republic of China, and they have done some outstanding infrastructure projects over the year[s], however we have to always remember that they are the second largest economy in the world, and we, well we are a very far way away,” Patterson told Stabroek News yesterday.

“If the Ambassador is offering the GoG (Government of Guyana) a grant, for example moneys that we do not have to repay, we will gladly accept this offer.  However I am not impressed with the amount of moneys that will be required to fund his suggestions. We simply cannot afford it,” he added.

Last week Tuesday, at a University of Guyana forum where he  was a guest speaker for a Renaissance Lecture on the topic ‘A new era for China and China-Guyana Relations’, Cui  told attendees that he was not impressed with government’s proposal for the New Demerara River crossing.

“I am really concerned about Demerara Bridge. So frankly speaking, I have talked to the Minister of Public Infrastructure, but I cannot tell the details, but I told them if we are still building a floating bridge, this is not 21st Century, he said.

“The minister told me, ‘We know in China your bridge …he visited the Hong Kong Mizxtuah Bridge so I asked him how we can we help… We don’t only have experience we have the build power. And also… we think that if we develop Guyana, we know oil and gas will be here in 2020. We think we could have the opportunity to invest more resources in the infrastructure industry and I do believe we could have brighter future’”, he added.

The Chinese Ambassador said that his government was not interested in the current design of the Demerara Bridge, because the design caters to a “1970” setting and not current day structures.

“At that time, a bridge like that is okay, but now is the 21st century. We have modern design, modern technology, I know there is constraint for this bridge, but I think that really we need a 21st Century design,” he said.

Further, he questioned “I cannot interfere and say what kind of bridge you can build, but I think that, from my perspective, that really it is the 21st Century so how can we build another floating bridge?”

But the Minister of Public Infrastructure believes that it is unreasonable for China to compare Guyana with itself developmentally and economically, given that country has the world’s second largest economy and is a world superpower. He said that in making decisions which require borrowing against state funds governments needs to be mindful of the possible payback hardships that it can face. He pointed to sister CARICOM countries and internationally saying that we have examples and would not be another added to that list.

“We also have to be mindful of the experiences of countries that have borrowed large loans to undertake infrastructure projects and what happens when they cannot repay these loans. The examples of the port [Hambantota] in Sri Lanka and the Hotel [Baha Mar] in [The] Bahamas are two recent examples. Even highway 2000 in Jamaica (which in my opinion is a successful project), the new government have raised concerns about the concessions given to the Chinese company,” Patterson stressed.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo says that he and his party are not supportive of the current new Demerara River Crossing.

But Patterson poured cold water on Jagdeo’s criticisms saying he is not looking through realistic lens and is merely focused on scoring political points by criticising just any project government undertakes.

“As for the Leader of the Opposition I do not expect any better, actually he can’t make up his mind, he is on record decrying the funding the GoG may have to inject for the proposed bridge, imagine what he will say about the subsidy for another type of bridge – which will be three times higher … He is doing what he knows best – opposition, where he seems quite comfortable,” Patterson said.

Last year when tenders for the project opened, state-owned Chinese companies and affiliates dominated bids. Seven of the eleven companies were either Chinese-owned or teamed up with local or other partners to bid.

The evaluation of tenders is currently ongoing with Project Head Rawlston Adams last month informing that the evaluation has proven more complex than planned and the deadline for completion of the process has been extended.

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