Patterson refuses to meet with BBCI over proposed buyout

– says priorities are different

The Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) has expressed its disappointment with Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson’s refusal to meet over a potential buyout of the bridge.

Berbice River Bridge

During an interview on the State-owned NCN last month, Minister Patterson had disclosed that his government has offered to purchase the ownership of the bridge from the BBCI.
Days later, the Bridge Company denied that such a proposal was made but subsequently wrote the Minister for a meeting to discussion Government’s buyout offer.
However, the Public Infrastructure Minister has since rejected the BBCI’s request to meet, opting instead to go ahead with ongoing court proceedings.
In his response, Patterson said while Government “stands ready and willing to seek a resolution regarding matters of national importance”, including the issue of the Berbice River Bridge, Government “shall continue to make representation” in court.
A move, which the BBCI says, is in incomprehensible.

Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson

“The Berbice Bridge Company Inc, quite frankly, finds the Government’s approach to dealing with a Public Private Partnership incomprehensible, since, rather than exercise the much more preferable option of meeting and exploring a resolution of the issue, the Government has chosen to proceed in Court,” the Company said in a statement on Thursday.
The BBCI went on to highlight that since the assumption of the coalition Government into office, it has consistently sought, though without success, to meet with the Public Infrastructure Minister to discuss a revision of its Concession Agreement.
It is because of the Government’s persistent refusal to respect its contractual obligations under the Concession Agreement to come to the table and address the annual adjustments to the bridge toll that the BBCI said it was forced to resort to the Court.
Last October, the BBCI had 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, 2018 took over operations of the facility to stop the BBCI’s increase from taking effect on November 12 of that year.
The Berbice Bridge Company has since challenged this move by Government and the Court has ordered Minister Patterson to give reasons for the decision to take over operations of the bridge. The matter is scheduled to be heard again on October 18, 2019.
Nevertheless, the BBCI said in its missive on Thursday that it is in the public interest and best business practice for parties delivering a public service, who are in dispute, to sit down together to seek an amicable resolution to their differences rather than proceed to litigation, where there can only be one winner and one loser.
“The Berbice Bridge Company Inc is extremely disappointed in the Government’s refusal to now meet and present a fair and reasonable offer to purchase the ownership of the Bridge given the Minister’s previous public statement on the matter,” Thursday’s statement detailed.
In a previous missive last month, the BBCI said it welcomed any “fair and reasonable” offer from Government to buy over the Berbice River Bridge.
But in a post on his Facebook page on Thursday, Minister Patterson admitted that he declined to meet with the Company to possible sale, saying “our priorities are very different”.
In fact, he contended that he is “willing to meet at any time to further discuss the maintenance and repairs of this bridge ONLY…”
The issue of the buyout of the Berbice Bridge was raised last year, when outspoken political activist and former Presidential Advisor, Ramon Gaskin, suggested a total buyout of the Bridge Company by Government so as to resolve the issue of raising tolls.
At the time, Guyana Times had reported 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 had suggested that an alternative can be for Government and the NIS to solely-own the bridge company, thus buying the shares from all the other shareholders.