BBCI moves to High Court to reverse Govt’s takeover
The Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) has turned to the High Court in an attempt to retake operations of the facility, which the coalition Government took over earlier this month.
In a statement on Thursday, the BBCI said both Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson and Attorney General Basil Williams have been served with notice of the legal challenge it has mounted. The application is set to come up for hearing on December 5 before Justice Gino Persaud.
Last month, the BBCI disclosed that the company is facing bankruptcy and as
such proposed to increase its tolls, as much 300 per cent in some cases, to keep the Berbice Bridge afloat.
However, this was strongly opposed by Government, which called the toll hikes burdensome and draconian, and eventually, on November 5, took over operations of the facility to stop the BBCI’s increase from taking effect on November 12, 2018.
“In accordance with the powers conferred upon the Minister by Sections 4 (1) and 11 of the Berbice River Bridge Act, in the interests of public safety, the Minister issued an Order declaring that the functions of the Concessionaire to maintain and operate the Bridge shall be exercised by the Government of Guyana as of 5th November, 2018 until the date the Minister specifies by notice on the cessation of the threat to public safety,” Minister Patterson had declared.
However, some three weeks after, the Bridge Company has asked the High Court to grant several orders to reverse the takeover and bar the Minister from carrying out his functions of maintaining and operating the Bridge.
The court document, released by the BBCI, says it is seeking “an order of certiorari quashing paragraph 2 of the Berbice River Bridge (Public Safety) Toll Order 2018 dated the 1st November, 2018, No 42 of 2018, made by the first named defendant (Minister Patterson) under the Berbice River Bridge Act Cap 51:06 ordering that the functions of the concessionaire, namely the claimant (BBCI), to maintain and
operate the Bridge shall be exercised by the Government, the first named defendant having determined that the exercise of those functions by the Government is necessary and expedient in the interests of the public during the period 5th November, 2018, to the date the Minister specifies by notice on the cessation of the threat to public safety.”
The Bridge Company also wants the court to grant an order of prohibition to stop Government from exercising the functions of maintaining and operating the Berbice Bridge as well as a conservatory order prohibiting the defendants and/or agents from assuming the functions of the Bridge under the Berbice River Bridge (Public Safety) Toll Order.
Furthermore, the BBCI is seeking an order of certiorari to quash paragraph 3 of the Minister’s Order, which states that the tolls levied and collected and any exemptions shall be the same and not increased.
The company is asking the court too for an order to prohibit the Public Infrastructure Minister from stopping the increases of the tolls.
The BBCI wants the court to declare that Minister Patterson “has no power under the Berbice River Bridge Act, or otherwise, to approve or reject an increase in tolls by the claimant… [and also grant] a conservatory order prohibiting the defendants by themselves, their servants and/or agents from ordering or continuing to maintain the order that the tolls levied and collected and any exemptions from the payment of tolls shall be the same….”
Additionally, the Bridge Company is also turning to the court to declare that the Berbice River Bridge (Public Safety) Toll Order is ultra vires sections 4 and 12 of the Berbice River Bridge Act.
As such, the company is asking the court to grant a declaration that this order by the Public Infrastructure Minister is unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect in that it is tantamount to the compulsory taking of possession or compulsorily acquiring an interest in or right over the Berbice River Bridge, which is owned by BBCI, without prompt and adequate compensation in violation of article 142(1) of the Constitution of Guyana.
Finally, the BBCI requested that an order directing the Public Infrastructure Minister to supply to the Bridge Company, as a body affected by his order, a statement setting out the findings on material questions of fact referring to the evidence or other material on which those findings were based and giving the reasons for the decision.
The new tolls proposed by the BBCI would have seen cars and minibuses paying $8040 to cross the Bridge; pickups, small trucks and four-wheeled drive vehicles $14,600; medium trucks $27,720; large trucks $49,600; articulated trucks $116,800; and boats $401,040.
While Government is adamant in not allowing the increases, outspoken political activist and former Presidential Advisor, Ramon Gaskin, has suggested a total buyout of the Bridge Company by Government so as to resolve the issue.
Guyana Times understands that the BBCI, in which the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) has majority voting rights on the Board of Directors, was forced to push for the increase in tolls in order to protect its investment. To this end, Gaskin suggested that an alternative can be for Government and the NIS to solely own the bridge, thus buying the shares from all the other shareholders.