Dr Surendra Persaud, who had pushed for toll increases at the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) in order to avert the company from becoming bankrupt, has been replaced as the Chairman of the company by the new Chairman of the NIS.
The new BBCI Chairman is Auditor, John Seeram. Back in December, Seeram appointed the new Chairman of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) after the life of the Dr Persaud’s Board ended.
Dr Persaud, who was a strong advocate for the Alliance for Change 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, as much 300 per cent in some cases, 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.
A move which 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.
While Government still assumes responsibility for the operation of the bridge to date, the bridge company in November had moved to the High Court, asking it to grant several orders to reverse the takeover and bar the Minister from carrying out functions of maintaining and operating the bridge.
That matter is still being heard in the High Court and is coming up for hearing on February 26.
Many stakeholders weighed in on the situation including the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) which had called the Government out for precipitating the toll increases. The party noted that a formula for minor increases was supposed to be in place – increases that would have lessened the impact on commuters. Instead, the coalition abandoned this formula and even tinkered with it, thus resulting in the current state of affairs at the BBCI.
While Government has been adamant in not allowing these increases, outspoken political activist and former Presidential Advisor Ramon Gaskin had suggested a total buyout of the bridge company by Government so as to resolve the issue.
Guyana Times understands that the BBCI, in which the 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.