…did not follow financial model that guaranteed minimal increases…as Govt opposed increase; to review legal optionsWhile the Government is digging its heels in when it comes to impending increases in tolls to use the Berbice Bridge, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has weighed in on the saga by calling the Government out for precipitating the toll increases.Opposition Leader Bharrat JagdeoAccording to the Party on Tuesday, a formula for minor increases was supposed to be in place – increases that would have lessened the impact on commuters. Instead, however, the Party noted that Government abandoned this formula and even tinkered with it.“Had the Coalition Government pursued the financial model used by the former People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration, there would have been no proposed increases of this magnitude. The Bridge was built around a financial model that did not envisage such massive increases in tolls.“Rather, minimal increases were envisaged – followed by a steep decline in tolls – until the Berbice Bridge was handed over to the State,” the Party continued. “Since July 2018, the PPP General Secretary and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, questioned whether the current Administration tinkered with the financial model. To date, this question remains unanswered.”The PPP stated that Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson would have in his possession the financial model and contract documents for the Berbice Bridge. The Party called for these to be released.Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson“The Minister, instead, is trying to absolve himself of responsibility by claiming that there is a confidentiality clause preventing the documents’ release – there is none. It was the Coalition Government that promised a reduction in tolls, but the incompetence which has marked almost all of its actions, has come back to haunt the Administration,” the Party said on Tuesday.The PPP also pointed out that the Chairman of the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI), Dr Surendra Persaud and the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), is a supporter of the Alliance For Change (AFC) party of which Patterson is an executive member.“Blaming the PPP seems to be a tactic of the AFC – Minister Patterson, as campaign manager for the AFC, seems to have forgotten that the AFC is part of the current Government. The PPP is categorically opposed to any increase in tolls at the Berbice Bridge. We do not support an increase in the tolls, particularly given what is happening in Berbice – loss of thousands of jobs in the sugar industry and other sectors – as a result of the policies of the APNU/AFC Coalition Government.“The Government should take measures to prevent the increase in tolls, given the hardship policies it has imposed on our people. If there is any move by the APNU/AFC Coalition Government to sign a toll order to bring into effect the proposed increases, the People’s Progressive Party commits to reversing the increase after the 2020 General and Regional Elections.”Legal optionsEarlier on Tuesday, the Public Infrastructure Minister had called a hasty press conference after the news of the increase broke. When asked about the agreement, Patterson had claimed that a confidentiality clause was in effect.Patterson informed the press that all options to stop the increases would be considered. These options ran the gamut from amending the Berbice Bridge agreement to an injunction to stating that “if the Minister of Public Security says it’s a vital and important service and says declare an order to keep it open, we’ll do that.”Patterson indicated that he has been written to by associations representing Berbice businesses. The Minister related that they have asked that the increases not be passed down to them. And according to the Minister, Government’s position is, it is against the increases.Patterson said that at a recent meeting with the BBCI officials, he was informed of their debt and the fact that they were not making enough money to upkeep the bridge. According to the minister, he gave the company the Government’s offer; which was to take over maintenance of the pontoons for the remaining nine years of the agreement.Patterson related that he tried to negotiate a lower rate of return than the one the company is entitled to by contract. He claimed that he also requested that a detailed proposal containing a breakdown of their reported $6 billion debt be sent.This proposal, according to Patterson, would have been sent to the Finance Minister, since he was only empowered to speak to certain aspects of the agreement. The Minister claimed that BBCI did not send this information.Jagdeo has previously pointed out that the financial model would have seen tolls rising just enough to repay the debt, after which the tolls would have been significantly reduced. This model was not used by the Government, as requests from BBCI for increases were refused.Failing this, the Opposition Leader had also suggested that Government buying out the shares from the stakeholders was the only feasible way to prevent the impact of increases on commuters.