Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson says he has been advised by the Attorney General, Basil Williams, and his team, that he is on firm legal ground to reject the announced massive toll increase for the Berbice River crossing.
Patterson was present at the Alliance for Change (AFC) Local Government Elections (LGE) press conference midday yesterday, when he gave an update on the situation between the government and the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI).
“I have just come out of an emergency meeting with the Attorney General… (who) briefed me on the legal implications and their opinions on the status of the declaration by the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. and they have directed me to do certain things which I will go forth with,” Patterson reported.
He explained that the details pertaining to the legal implications would have to be obtained from Williams himself and highlighted that the Concessional Agreement for the bridge has sections for dispute resolution and others.
“I prefer that you speak to the Attorney General on the legal issues but what he confirmed is that I am on firm legal ground to reject the tolls,” he added.
The news came a day after the BBCI announced swingeing increases of approximately 265% to their toll structure for all classes of vehicles. At a press conference hours after the announcement, Patterson had stated that he wanted to assure the residents of the county of Berbice that the government would do everything in its power to ensure that they do not have to pay the “unconscionable” increases.
The increases follow several years of fruitless talks between the company and the government over the hiking of tariffs. The company has sustained significant losses.
In announcing the increases at the NCN studio, Chairman of the Board of Directors of BBCI Dr. Surendra Persaud, had said the decision was based on legal advice that the company has received, and also noted that no prior adjustments were ever made, no surpluses have been earned, which resulted in the required hikes in the tolls being compounded.
It is not the first time that BBCI has proposed increases. In July of this year, Persaud had said that under the bridge contract signed with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration, the fares should have been raised in increments, which would have taken them to the figures now proposed.
He warned that the current APNU+AFC administration’s continued refusal of the hikes could lead to the company’s bankruptcy.
“My position remains the same. I will not be approving any toll increases for the Berbice River Bridge crossing and that is our position on that. We will be seeking legal advice from the Attorney General’s Chambers on the legal implications on what is the power and authority under this Act,” Patterson had stressed.
“I want to give all assurances to the people, especially in Region Five and Region Six, that the government will do all that is necessary to ensure that commuters can continue to use the bridge safely and without any particular undue harassment and tolls,” he stated.
The toll structure: