High Court gives Govt additional time to respond to BBCI’s legal challenge

Berbice Bridge take over

Government has been granted additional time to respond to aspects of the legal challenge filed by the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) in its bid to retake operations of the bridge.
In October, the BBCI disclosed that it was facing bankruptcy and as such proposed to increase its tolls, to keep the bridge company afloat.
However, 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 last month and asked the court 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.
This application came up for hearing on December 5, 2018, before Justice Gino Persaud. But before the case could have been heard, lawyers from the Attorney General’s Chambers filed an application for an extension of time to file an affidavit in answer to the application for facts and reasons.
Justice Persaud granted that application, thus giving the State an additional 10 days to respond to the BBCI. As such, the matter will be called again on Wednesday December 19, for hearing.
In its 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, a declaration that the order is unconstitutional, an order that the Minister supply the facts and reasons for the decision to promulgate the Order and several other related orders.
The BBCI also asked for immediate interim relief by way of an application to the court for Minister Patterson to supply the facts and reasons for the decision which is provided for by section 15 of the Judicial Review Act. The company had explained that after the promulgation of the Toll Order, the BBCI had written to the Minister asking for the facts and reasons within 14 days as provided for by section 15, but the Minister did not respond.
While Government is adamant in not allowing the increases, outspoken political activist and former Presidential Advisor, Ramon Gaskin, had suggesting 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.