Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo Wednesday protested the move by Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson to take over the operations and management of the Berbice River Bridge from the concessionaires, pending the resolution of the toll increase issue.
Jagdeo told a news conference at his Church Street Office that there was no need for such a move, which he said amounts to nationalization of private property, and insisted that it was not a move that the opposition party agrees with.
The Opposition Leader said the move by the Government is a bad image for Guyana, especially when the Minister has other options at his disposal and at a time when the Government is seeking similar private/public partnerships to facilitate other developmental projects.
“My position on this issue of nationalization and taking over private property is that I don’t agree with it. Was it justified in this case? Could there be no other remedy?” Jagdeo questioned.
According to the Opposition Leader, there could be no increase, unless the Government wanted it because any increase without the Minister signing the toll order would be illegal.
“He [Patterson] didn’t need to take over the operation of the bridge,” Jagdeo said while positing that it was simply an election gimmick for the APNU and AFC to secure votes at Monday’s Local Government polls.
The Opposition Leader believes it is a clever campaign strategy of the AFC where all its transgressions have disappeared and the bridge issue is now dominating daily news headlines.
“It was contrived to get the entire media to play it out until November 12th so there is no focus on the other issues,” he said.
Jagdeo reminded that the issue started several weeks ago by the head of the BBCI, Dr. Surendra Persaud who is also a government official serving in the capacity as Chair of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
Dr. Persaud, Jagdeo reminded, is also an AFC member.
He said the issue went from blaming the PPP, then to pointing out that the BCCI was in breach of the agreement to increase tolls by over 300% and now there are talks about extending the life of the agreement for another 19 years.
Jagdeo said there is no talk about how the same agreement, which the Government claimed was inefficient, is being used by Patterson to nationalize the bridge and request an extension in the agreement.
“Clearly the company has to justify in great detail why it has not met its obligations to its shareholders and investors.
“They have to answer for that… I believe that they [the Government] need to look after our interest as taxpayers. They need to take the model and the first question they must pose to the bridge company… is why is it that you need to have an extension or even any toll increase because the original model spoke to two minor toll increases… why now 300%.”
Jagdeo said if there should be modifications to the existing agreement, he would probably support a two- or three-year extension or even for the tolls to remain the same until the life of the agreement ends.
“The whole bridge issue is just to take things away from Patterson. He couldn’t show his face for weeks.
“He ran away when the Public Procurement Commission found him guilty of breaking laws. He didn’t welcome the findings. He said it was urgent.
“The Auditor General found his ministry not accounting for $500 million under the Durban Park project. There are tons of corruption in his ministry and he was hiding. Suddenly he reappears back in the papers, rehabilitated and is seen as the saviour.”
Jagdeo said he suspects the Government will hand the bridge back over to the shareholders after local government elections and there would be no increase in tolls.
He said the laws and concession agreement are on Government’s side.
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