The Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) has denounced the shocking announcement that the Public Infrastructure Ministry has taken control of the Berbice Bridge, describing the order as unlawful and noting that it may challenge the decision in the High Court.
On Tuesday, the BBCI criticised the Government for the move and demanded answers from Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson. It noted that based on the legal advice it received, Toll Order 2018 to take over operations of the Bridge was unlawful under the Berbice River Bridge Act.
The Company noted that pursuant to the Judicial Review Act, it has written to the Minister demanding an explanation. Section 15 of the Act compels anyone making an administrative decision to supply justification for said decision, upon request.
According to Section 15 (1) of the Act, “It is the duty of any person or body making an administrative decision, if requested in accordance with this section by any person adversely affected by the decision, to supply that person with 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 Act also stipulates that such an explanation must be provided within 14 days. The Company went on to add that it next course of action would be determined by the response received … even if it means the High Court. In the meantime, however, the Company noted that it was forced to comply with the order.
It was only on November 4, that the BBCI announced that its recent request for a meeting with Government would be forwarded to Cabinet for discussion.
The BBCI also revealed that it had a proposal to end the impasse, should Government extend the life of the contract to 40 years, there would be no increases.
But in a shocking move on Monday, November 5, the Public Infrastructure Minister announced that the Government would be taking over the Bridge. While the Minister sought to assure it was only temporary and that the Board would remain untouched, the move has already touched off concerns in sections of society.
The BBCI has been seeking increases to its toll structure for the past three years to no avail. It, therefore, announced new increases last month, something the Government has been resolute against. The increases were announced by BBCI Chairman Dr Surendra Persaud, a close associate of the Alliance For Change (AFC) party.
The Government has been resolute in saying it would not agree to toll increases and has instead pointed to its servicing of the Bridge’s pontoons as a way it is mitigating the crisis. The BBCI has maintained that this arrangement was insufficient for it to meet its financial obligations, but has, nevertheless, tried to bring the Government to the table for discussions.
Slap to public-private partnerships
However, the Government’s unilateral decision did not go down well with BBCI Vice Chairman Paul Cheong, who on Monday told Guyana Times such an arbitrary move was a slap in the face of all public-private partnerships.
Speaking with this publication on Monday, 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.”
But on Monday, several members of the Private Sector were on edge, as, according to a leading businessman, the move by Government did not augur well for investors in Guyana.
Dip in confidence
Last week, the World Bank’s 2018 Report signalled a dip in investors’ confidence in Guyana. This year, Guyana placed 126th in the global rankings. Last year, Guyana ranked 124th, while in 2015, the nation ranked 140th.
The Ease of Doing Business Index is one of the most comprehensive studies done by the World Bank.
In determining ease of doing business, the World Bank looks at key indicators such as registering, compliance, taxation, obtaining loans and similar factors such as administrative procedures. It also looks at legal measures, such as protection and settlements.