Amid the controversy surrounding the proposed increase in tolls at the Berbice River Bridge, outspoken political activist and former Presidential Advisor Ramon Gaskin is suggesting a total buyout of the bridge by Government so as to resolve the issue.Political activist and former Presidential advisor Ramon GaskinGaskin on Wednesday said the situation has reached a point where the Government should seek to buy all the shares within the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) as opposed to allowing the company to impose massive increases on the travelling public, which they can ill afford at this point.On Tuesday, the Chairman of the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI), Dr Surendra Persaud, who is also the Chairman for the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), announced steep increases to the current tolls at the facility.Guyana Times understands that NIS through its Chairman, was forced to push for the increase in tolls in order to protect its investment. NIS has majority voting rights on the BBCI Board of Directors.Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Gaskin also 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.“You don’t need to make a profit just cover maintenance and pay the NIS interest on their investment and you could lower the rate to where it was and it could go lower,” he advised.On the other hand, Gaskin also suggested that NIS could put in for receivership. This is a remedy available to secured creditors to recover amounts outstanding under a secured loan in the event the company defaults on its loan payments.“Put it into receivership and get rid of the rest of shareholders… by buying the shares out… but make it a Government owned bridge together with the NIS and reduce the rates. The bridge could be nationalised, and Government could buy it over in the interest of NIS,” he said.Asked whether he believes the Government would make such a move, the political activist said while the Government could show some level of reluctance but added that it is in the best interest of all parties involved and as such it should be done.“The Government don’t understand any of these things… But they must look at protecting the interest of people. If they go ahead and buy the shares and take over the bridge it will be good for everyone,” he added.Further, Gaskin said the Chairman of the BBCI, Dr Surendra Persaud should be questioned by the Police over the non-payment to the NIS. He believes that Dr Persaud who chairs both the NIS and BCCI should be a matter of concern. He is also a member of the Alliance For Change (AFC).Shareholders positionOne of the shareholders told Guyana Times that it recognises that the Berbice Bridge is in serious financial jeopardy given that debts have reached maturity and few options are available to stave off bankruptcy.“The Government should sit down with the bridge company and work out the appropriate subsidy with due reference to the financial model and or the Concession Agreement. This is necessary as a result of Government’s refusal to allow incremental increases, or in other words, refusing to honour its contractual obligations as per the Concession Agreement,” the shareholder said.Another noted that if an agreement cannot be reached, them it is recommended that the Government buy back the bridge and compensate investors in keeping with the financial model and other investment documents.“Once the Government executes a buyback it will be able to lower tolls. If this is approached properly Government might still be able to preserve public private partnerships in Guyana,” the shareholder stated.It added that the investors assumed significant risk to build the bridge. While the bridge has been de-risked for several years, following its successful opening, the ordinary shareholders are yet to receive a single cent in dividends.“We recognise the efforts of the Directors of the bridge company who has a fiduciary duty to preserve the financial integrity of the company in the context of the dire circumstances the company must be facing at this time. We also empathises with commuters who are caught in the middle,” a representative of a shareholder told Guyana Times.BBCI letterIn a letter sent from the BBCI to Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson dated Monday, October 15, it stated that there have been four requests for the tolls to be adjusted but to no avail. It expressed disappointment having met with the Minister there was no positive outcome.However, the company having sought legal advice was told that they have to consult with the Minister for the toll increases. “It is by under and virtue of the above provision that the Berbice Bridge Company Inc is consulting with you in relation to the proposals for an adjustment in tolls,” the missive stated while still declaring that the increases will take effect on November 12, , the same day as Local Government Elections.
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5 players Joe Schmidt should include on Ireland’s summer tour to Argentina IRELAND COACH JOE Schmidt has omitted Ian Madigan from his 30-man squad to face Argentina in two Tests next month.The Kiwi has included four uncapped players in the group. Kieran Marmion of Connacht is the only uncapped back, while Robbie Diack, Rob Herring and James Cronin are included among the forwards.Madigan’s omission came as Jonathan Sexton was called up, despite many suggestions that the out-half may well be rested after a long season of Lions, club and international rugby.Paul O’Connell continues as captain, but in the first window without Brian O’Driscoll Gordon D’Arcy joins Cian Healy among those rested. Instead, the midfield options are made up by Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Robbie Henshaw, Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls.Tommy Bowe is another big name to sit out the summer tour, the back three opportunities given to Earls, McFadden, Simon Zebo, Andrew Trimble, Rob Kearney and Felix Jones.Ireland squad to tour Argentina: Forwards (16): Rory Best, James Cronin*, Robbie Diack*, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Herring*, Dave Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy, Paul O’Connell, Mike Ross, Rhys Ruddock, Devin Toner, Damian Varley.Backs (14): Darren Cave, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, Felix Jones, Rob Kearney, Kieran Marmion*, Luke Marshall, Fergus McFadden, Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan, Jonny Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo.*denotes uncapped player.