New proposed Demerara River bridge could become a financial nightmare

Dear Editor,

Ours is an economy which is comparatively small, relatively undiversified and precariously dependent upon primary production. In such an economy, experience, if not common sense, militates against the over-expenditure of scarce financial resources, however accessed, on projects that are infrastructural and non-productive.

In Suriname, for example, the construction of two massive bridges has thrown one of the most vibrant and resilient economies in the Region, into a tailspin, from which a decade after, it is yet to recover. Similarly, in St Vincent, perhaps the most modern and one of the largest international airports in the Caribbean, just constructed, is perceived to have caused two commercial banks to close their doors and has cascaded the tiny economy of that island into chaos.

It is against this economic reality that great care and prudence were exercised by the PPP/Civic administration in relation to capital projects of such nature. For example, the model used for the financing of the Amaila Falls Hydro Project required not a single cent from the treasury. The project was to be financed solely by the contractor. All that was required from the Government was a guarantee of GPL’s purchase of the power generated by the project under a Power Purchase Agreement. Similarly, the Berbice River Bridge, again, did not extract any financial input from the treasury but was financed by a unique and innovative Public/Private partnership. In order to minimize the cost of that bridge, the design and location of the bridge were carefully chosen. Even then, the resultant tolls to cross the bridge generated great criticism from the then political Opposition, although every effort was expended to bring the toll as close as possible to what it would have cost to cross the river by ferry. The bottom line is no one can or has ever questioned the cost of that project. The benefits flowing therefrom have been and continue to be immeasurable. Those who were hitherto critical of it, and promised to slash the tolls by half, now in Government, hypocritically enjoy it and have never delivered the promise in respect of the tolls.

Let me make it very clear that I support a new bridge across the Demerara River. The technical life of the current bridge has long expired. In fact, when in government, I was part of a Cabinet that made a decision to construct a new bridge across the Demerara. That Cabinet commissioned a feasibility study in order to examine the design of a new bridge, its location, estimated costs and the possible model of its financing. At a cost of several million dollars, such a study was done. This study, unfortunately, recommended 2 different locations for the new bridge without taking into account locating it alongside the current bridge. Additionally, the cost of the fixed four lanes, reinforced concrete bridge which was recommended was considered to be exorbitant. The 2015 elections came and the rest is now history.

This Government handpicked a foreign consultant at a cost of 146 million dollars to commission a new study. This study produced Houston as the most suitable location for the bridge. The design was a 3-lane fixed bridge with a discernible twist to make it miraculously land on the property at Versailles of a financier of the APNU’s elections campaign. Subsequently, this design was also scrapped. So 146 million dollars was wasted and they are now planning to proceed with a  4 lane bridge to be designed by the contractor. Therefore, in the final analysis, the contractor will determine the cost of the bridge that has to be built!

Unless this project is prudently monitored and managed and executed in a transparent and accountable manner, we are likely to end up with a monstrosity which can cost this nation billions of dollars. The resulting toll charges will be far beyond the affordability of the average Guyanese and consequently, hundreds of millions will have to be haemorrhaged from the treasury to subsidize it, annually. These are merely ancillary to the huge debt burden which the financing of this project would leave upon the backs of the ordinary Guyanese. When this debt is added to the over US$950 million expected to be borrowed from the Islamic Development Bank, coupled with the 30 million borrowed for GUYSUCO, which the Government has guaranteed, I am in no doubt that we are once again on the road to becoming the most indebted people, per capita, in the western hemisphere – and unenviable legacy of the PNC.

History and societal evolution have taught us that humankind ought to learn from their mistakes, or are condemned to repeat them. Our Government seems determined to keep us trapped in this cycle of condemnation and repetition. The elections of 2020 presents the earliest exit from this vicious cycle. Only time will tell if we will be so sagacious as a nation to make the right choice.

 Yours faithfully,

Anil Nandlall

Around the Web