T&HD left with over $956.8M debt by APNU/AFC – Edghill
As the consideration of the budget estimates continues in the National Assembly, it was disclosed on Wednesday that the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) is in liability of more than $956.8 million.
This was disclosed by Public Works Minister Juan Edghill, who was at the time fielding questions on his ministry, which has oversight of the T&HD.
Edghill revealed that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) inherited a Department that is some $956,804,781 in the red, owing several agencies and unions millions of dollars.
The Department owes the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) some $469.9 million; the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) $331.2 million, and the unions some $9.4 billion; that is, $2.3 million to the Guyana Public Service Credit Union and $7.1 million to the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Cooperative Credit Union.
Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) the former Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson had asked whether any money was budgeted to clear the Department’s debt. However, Minister Edghill said the appropriated sums in the 2020 Emergency Budget are only for fuel supplied to the T&HD so as to prevent any hike in fares. He added that allocations to bring the T&HD out of the red would be made in the 2021 budget.
But in response to a subsequent query from Patterson regarding a plan to make the Department profitable, Edghill recognised there is need to make the Department not just profitable, but also modernised.
“The Transport and Harbours Department provides a useful service, and one of the things we wanted to ensure we do is to have modernised ferries, which would mean reduced travel time, better fuel consumption, and more comfort for passengers and goods,” the Public Works Minister pointed out.
To this end, he reminded that, since 2014, the then President, Donald Ramotar, had secured a Line of Credit (LOC) from the Indian Government to the tune of US$18 million to build a new ocean-going ferry to service the Region One (Barima-Waini) route.
“Five years later, as I stand here, the ferry is still on a desk in a document with controversy and with no resolution. Within 10 days of assuming office, his Excellency the President (Irfaan Ali), the Vice President (Bharrat Jagdeo), yours truly and my colleague Minister (Deodat Indar) engaged the Indian Government about this troubled project, and I’m happy to let this National Assembly know today that that US&18 million that was lying there for five years is now being utilised to bring a modern ferry to Guyana. We have resolved the issues,” Minister Edghill declared in the National Assembly.
Moreover, the Public Works Minister pointed out that his ministry is working to ensure that the current fleet of vessels, though aged, remains in operation.
In the same breath, however, he noted that Government is currently conducting a review by comparing the maintenance cost, especially as it relates to acquiring spares for those dated vessels, and the cost of purchasing more new vessels to determine which is more profitable.
Moreover, Edghill went on to outline that the PPP/C administration is also pro-private sector, and is looking at ways to enhance the services provided by private water/river taxi operators. To this end, he disclosed that the scheduled upgrades and modernisation of several stellings across the country would vastly boost the operations of the water taxis, as well as provide more comfort and safety for the travelling public.
Among the stellings that are earmarked for upgrade this year are: the Bartica Stelling in Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) to the tune of $7 million; the Parika Stelling in Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) at a cost of $18 million; the Supenaam Stelling in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) at a cost of $24 million, and the Kumaka Stelling in Region One (Barima-Waini) to the tune of $15 million.
According to the Public Works Minister regarding these and other interventions: “I can give… the assurance that having to deal with liabilities and the non-performance of the last five years in getting things along, we have already engaged the management of Transport and Harbours Department, and we’re looking at all possibilities of making this sector modern, cost- efficient and affordable.
“We don’t want to have to impose hardships on people, but things must be sustainable in a modern world in which that we are delivering. So, we will find that balance…and we’ll be able to do what is best for Guyana,” Minister Edghill asserted.