The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) on Friday both accused each other of orchestrating the toll hikes announced for the Berbice Bridge as they continued their campaigns to mobilise support in the county ahead of the upcoming local government polls.
At a local government meeting in New Amsterdam PPP General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo told a small gathering that if the increases in the tolls are enforced, his party would immediately reverse them after regaining the government.
“If they proceed to implement with the compliance of the government, we will reverse it as soon as the PPP takes office,” Jagdeo said of the huge hikes that were recently announced by the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated.
He suggested that the AFC was behind the massive increases, which are due to take effect on November 12th, when local government polls will be held across the country. “That was supposed to scare the people across Berbice that now the tolls would go up to 300%, 400% and then blame the PPP for it by saying we allowed this to happen,” he said.
He, however, maintained that under the law, the tolls cannot take effect without the subject minister’s approval. He also stressed that no increase of such a magnitude was catered for in the agreement and that the tolls should have already started to decline instead of increasing.
Meanwhile, during a “community outreach” on Friday at the Auchlyne Primary School on the Corentyne, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo told the gathering of AFC members and supporters that the PPP was behind the recently announced increases in the tolls.
“They try a trick to make you feel unhappy and angry. They got their friends to increase the toll on the Berbice Bridge by almost 500%; that bridge was established under the Jagdeo regime. Know the facts,” Nagamootoo stated.
During his speech, he invited Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson to give a comment on the issue.
Patterson then proceeded to relate that it has been discovered that the PPP/C came up with the idea to have a bridge, pinpointed a location and then carried out a feasibility study. “They passed an Act for the Berbice Bridge in 2006, then after they did that then they did the feasibility study. So, they decided they wanted a bridge first, they decided where they wanted a bridge from, then to make it look good they decided they did a feasibility study,” Patterson said.
However, after taking back the microphone, Nagamootoo claimed that the increases are intended to scare Berbicians. “… You know last year it was David Patterson who came forward and subsidised the toll and he provided water taxis and he said just now if we have to do it again, we will do it,” the Prime Minister noted.
According to Nagamootoo, Berbicians thought they were getting a Berbice Bridge but instead it was “Bharrat’s best buddy bridge.” He claimed, “This is how he intended it so that they can use the cane cutters’ money. They did that before, $5 billion that was set aside for the NIS for cane cutters and other workers, they invested in a thing named CLICO and then CLICO went and invested in the United States in Florida in houses and so on, and then they went bankrupt and couldn’t pay back the NIS. The government had to try all means to get money, so that sugar workers and other workers can secure their pensions…Then they take some of the monies and invest it in the Berbice Bridge and allow their friends to invest and the Berbice Bridge was going to become a milking cow for their best friends, their best buddies but it’s not going to happen under this government,” he asserted. “We want you to stand up with us when we decide on a day that we are going there to protest and close it down to show the might of the Guyanese people; they will have to bow to the might of the Guyanese people,” he added.
No new taxes
Jagdeo used his address to criticise the government, which he blamed for the country’s hardships. “We will witness more job losses, more depression, more hunger and all because of the incompetence and corruption of this government,” he said.
He argued that the retrenchment of sugar workers must have definitely affected New Amsterdam, before adding that the plans to develop a deep water harbour in New
Amsterdam that would have created thousands of new jobs right have been shelved.
Jagdeo stated that it is visible that some of the people who have lost their jobs are unable to provide their families with food and cannot afford to send their children to school, while prices of items have increased in shops and evidence of decline are evident “but what we are not seeing is the long term damage that they are doing to our economy.”
He explained, that the longer the present government stays in office, the damage of the economy would become profound and the reversal of the damage would be very hard.
He also said government has resorted to taxing the citizens more throughout the country. “The taxes have increased now by $60 billion more per year under this government. $60 billion to finance the extravagance and the corruption that they are pursuing. So who is paying the $60 billion more? It’s you, the businessman; it’s everyone. They did not spare anyone from the taxation. Forty-six food items that didn’t have VAT they put it on those, they put the VAT on water bill, on electricity bill, on hinterland travel, on drugs, that is where they are collecting more, the fees to conduct small business have skyrocketed, so we are all paying for it,” he said.
In his appeal to New Amsterdam’s citizenry, Jagdeo said the town voted for APNU+AFC at the 2016 polls and paid for it when the municipality implemented a 100% increase in rates and taxes this year.
“…The residents of New Amsterdam have to understand what they are voting for, too. The last time, 2016, we said no area controlled by the PPP will raise taxes. So 71 local government areas were contested across Guyana, we in the PPP we contested in 70 of those areas in 2016, we won 48 outright and tied 7 others and in all of those areas there was no increase in rates and taxes. The people in New Amsterdam voted for APNU and they got a 100% increase in their taxes, so voting for APNU is tantamount to voting for increased taxes,” he explained
He further stated another tax increase is coming as project to update property valuation is beginning in New Amsterdam. “If the PPP wins any area cross this country, we will not compound your hardships that people face already at the national level by giving them more burden at the local level. It is important that people here understand that however they vote will mean also greater hardships on them and we are clear about the kind of vision we want for this country,” he said. “Here in New Amsterdam I want you to go to every home, whether they support the PPP or not, we have a message for all Guyana because we are a national party, so I ask all of you to help us on election day, help us to get the party elected so we can strike another blow in favour of freedom, democracy and progress in Guyana,” he added.
Interest of the people
Nagamootoo noted that the upcoming polls will be the fourth local government elections in 50 years, which he said shows that democracy was not well even though the country was independent. “It shows we didn’t trust the people in the villages, in the communities where real people live and real people want better conditions, they want better roads, better streets, better community centres, playfields, better schools, better health centers,” he stated.
According to Nagamootoo, the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) in that area was supposed to make representations for road lights but did not do so because its members belong to another political party. “They want to bring down the image of the coalition government. They feel if you have lights on the road it will make the coalition look good, so don’t have lights,” he claimed.
He pointed out that NDCs are receiving $4 million in subventions apart from the rates and taxes which are being collected from residents, yet it is not being spent to improve the communities. As a result, he questioned what is being done with the funds.
“They don’t take the interest of the people at heart and they don’t do the job for which they were elected,” he said, while calling on residents to replace those that are not willing to work to better the communities.
“We want to send a clear message through the Government of Guyana that the reason why local government elections are important [is] because we want you to choose people who can work for you, choose the people in your NDC who understand your problems,” he further stressed.
He also said that presently, the PPP/C controls the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) of Region Six, “So the RDC don’t work for the communities, so it got floods all the time and they don’t go to the rice farmers, when the rice farmers don’t have markets for the rice, their paddy, they are happy because they believe that will give a bad name to the coalition government.”
During his address, the Prime Minister presented AFC candidate Mavis Nagamootoo to the gathering. He noted that Mavis, who is related to several cricketers who have excelled at the regional and international levels, wants to be a councillor because she wants to see the Whim Ground become not just a cricket centre for Whim/Bloomfield but also an international first class stadium to allow the young people to play cricket competitively.
According to him, those who said that “Mavis cannot be found” know how powerful she is.
“So they know more than anyone else that Mavis Nagamootoo is a big vote getter, a big vote catcher and…none of the trails that they put can run beside Mavis, so they targeted her,” he claimed.
He also stressed that while the coalition is intact, safe and strong, the AFC has chosen to contest the elections on its own as a tactic “because here they know they are invoking racism, you couldn’t get APNU to contest Whim/Bloomfield. You will go to war in race and they will give you all the reasons…why they shouldn’t choose APNU. But the AFC is a small, multi-ethnic party, got powerful leaders and they don’t know how to fight us, so they decide they will go and discredit us and say we are involved in fraud and trickery and forgery and threats.”
PPP supporters protested the Corentyne outreach, while APNU supporters protested the PPP’s meeting at New Amsterdam.