Court orders Minister Patterson to provide information for unilateral takeover

Berbice River Bridge

…ordered to pay $100,000 in costs

Berbice River Bridge
Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson

Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George has ordered that Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson comply with a previous court order to provide certain information to the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) in relation to Government’s takeover of the firm’s operations.
The order was issued on Monday during a case management hearing at the High Court.
Minister Patterson was previously ordered by High Court Justice Gino Persaud to provide reasons for taking over the bridge.
In fact, the order was issued on February 28, 2019 and the Minister was given 28 days to provide the information. But he never did.
Further, at the recent case management hearing, Minister Patterson was ordered to pay the BBCI costs in the sum of $100,000.
Other orders include the Bridge Company being given a date of July 12, 2019 to file an affidavit of documents, while the Minister was ordered to do so by July 26, 2019.
The Minister was also given July 26 to file witness statements. In addition, a statement of agreed facts has to be filed by August 5.
Meanwhile, the matter itself has been adjourned until August 16.
Last year, the then BBCI Chairman, Dr Surendra Persaud had argued that in the face of bankruptcy, it would have to raise tolls for commuters to use the Berbice Bridge.
Dr Persaud, who was a strong advocate for the Alliance For Change (AFC) during the 2015 elections, took on Government when he announced new tolls for the Berbice Bridge.
The then Chairman had disclosed that BBCI was facing bankruptcy and as such, proposed to increase its tolls, to keep the Berbice Bridge afloat. He said Government’s refusal to entertain consultations on the toll hike which would have prevented the continuing heavy financial losses of BBCI forced the company to announce the increases.
In response, the Public Infrastructure Minister issued a toll order, which effectively seized control of the Bridge and prohibited any increases.
The BBCI wasted little time in moving to the courts, where it is seeking, among other things, a court order reversing the takeover.
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.
The new tolls proposed by the BBCI were to take effect on November 12, 2018, but the Government, through Minister Patterson, issued an order and unilaterally took control of the Bridge on November 1, 2018.
However, the BBCI approached the High Court late November, asking it to quash the Minister’s order, thus allowing the company to resume responsibility for the Bridge and also to 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 was unconstitutional.
Following the unilateral takeover, BBCI Vice Chairman Paul Cheong told <<<Guyana Times>>> such an arbitrary move was a slap in the face of all public-private partnerships.
Speaking with this publication, a very livid Cheong said, “The decision came as a shock to us and, so we are working with our lawyers to weigh our legal options. I have a meeting with our lawyers tomorrow (Tuesday). This is a slap on the whole Private Sector … this is something bigger than toll increases … it is a slap to all public-private partnerships … it was a model project for private-public partnership and so the Government will have to be responsible in its actions.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, numerous private properties were compulsorily acquired by the then People’s National Congress (PNC) Administration. These properties include what is now Citizens Bank, Hope Estate Limited, a huge tract of land at Liliendaal, Takuba Lodge, Echilibar Villas and dozens more. In many instances, no monies were paid to the owners of these properties and in the cases where there were payments, the price was pegged to a 1939 valuation as was the law during that period.