Berbice Private Sector organization wants PPP to take control of Berbice Bridge

Mohamad Raffik, head of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce (CCCC) is calling on the Government to look at the option of purchasing the shares from the owners of the Berbice River Bridge.

The Berbice River Bridge, which was constructed through a public-private partnership between the then Bharat Jagdeo Government and a clique in the Private Sector in 2006, was described by Professor Clive Thomas as one of the biggest “wealth transfers in the world.”

To facilitate this arrangement, a bill was passed in the National Assembly and assented to by then President Bharrat Jagdeo in 2006.  The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the New Building Society (NBS) were made to invest heavily into the construction and operation of the Bridge which to date has yielded no returns for the National Insurance Scheme.

The Government, in 2017, undertook to pay NIS more than $5 billion it was owed and needed desperately to sustain its operations. Initially, the CCCC had recommended that the Berbice Bridge toll be reduced by 50 percent. However, that was rejected by the Government.

The APNU+AFC Government reduced the Bridge toll in 2016 after negotiations with the BBCI. The reduction in toll fees was in keeping with a 2015 campaign promise by the APNU + AFC. In 2018, the APNUAFC took temporary control of the Bridge after management had again announced a long list of toll increases that would have decimated the people and economy of Berbice.

From its construction to 2015, the year when the PPP/C lost the General and Regional Elections to the APNU+AFC, the BBCI never sought an increase in its tolls. However, a request for an increase was made in March of 2015. That was rejected by the Granger administration who in turn instituted river taxis for school children, nurses, and teachers for two periods daily, morning and afternoon to ease the burden on the traveling public.

This was a move that was strongly opposed by the Corentyne Chamber of Commerce and the Private Sector.  The Chamber at the time was adamant that Government was hostile to the Bridge Company. It is not clear what has changed to cause the CCCC to step down from its initial position of non-interference in the business of the Bridge Company.

President Ail was quoted in sections of the media as saying something can be done to reduce the cost. “This Government would embrace that action because fundamentally we want to remove as much hardship from the people. That is our fundamental philosophy,” he told Berbice residents during an outreach over the weekend.

More, In The Ring.