Court asks Patterson to justify Berbice Bridge take over
Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson has been ordered by the High Court to give reasons behind his decision to grant the November 2018 Berbice River Bridge Toll Order, which saw Government taking over the maintenance and operation of Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI).
As part of the legal proceedings filed by BBCI in its bid to retake operations of the bridge and implement toll increases, the court was asked for immediate interim relief by way of an application for Minister Patterson to supply the facts and reasons for the decision on the Toll Order.
Prior to filing the legal challenge, the Bridge Company had written the Public Infrastructure Minister asking for the facts and reasons for the Toll Order within 14 days as provided for by Section 15 of the Judicial Review Act, but the Minister never responded.
As such, during Thursday’s in chambers hearing, High Court Judge, Justice Gino Persaud, directed the Minister to state his reasons for issuing the Toll Order.
Lawyer for BBCI, Attorney Ralph Ramkarran, indicated that the Minister was given 28 days to file his response.
“We will have to wait and see if the Minister responds. They might appeal the decision, I don’t know; they could appeal to the Full Court. But that’s the decision as it stands and we will have to wait and see what happens,” Ramkarran said following the brief in chamber hearing on Thursday.
Deputy Solicitor General Debra Kumar appeared on behalf of the State during that hearing.
In October, the BBCI disclosed that it is facing bankruptcy and as such proposed to increase its tolls, as much 300 per cent in some cases, to keep the Bridge Company afloat. It said Government’s refusal to entertain consultations on the toll hike, which will prevent the continuing heavy financial losses of BBCI, forced the company to announce the increase.
The new tolls proposed by the BBCI, which were to take effect on November 12, 2018, 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.
However, this was strongly opposed by Government, and subsequently, Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson issued the Berbice River Bridge (Public Safety) Toll Order, which took effect on November 1, 2018.
The Order sought to prevent the BBCI from increasing the tolls for vehicles to cross the bridge and as such, Government took over the functions of maintaining and operating the Bridge, while ordering that the tolls remain the same. According to Government, this was done in the best interest of the people.
However, the BBCI approached the High Court late November, asking it to quash the Minister’s order, thus allowing them to resume responsibility for the bridge and also implement the toll hikes. Both Minister Patterson and Attorney General Basil Williams were named defendants in the court action and were served with notices.
In its substantive application, the BBCI is asking the court to quash the Order freezing the tolls, to prohibit the Minister and Government from exercising the functions of maintaining and operating the Bridge, and to declare that the order is unconstitutional.
This matter is still pending in the High Court and is expected to come up for case management soon.