Missing US$5M– as NICIL denies collecting outstanding moniesBy Jarryl BryanAfter years of back-and-forth, negotiations for the US$5 million owed by a Hong Kong company for the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) Company shares it bought are expected to be completed by March of this year.In an interview with this publication, National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited’s (NICIL’s) CEO, Horace James, confirmed that talks are wrapping up. Optimistic of a March deadline for the negotiations to end, James strongly denied that NICIL had collected any of the outstanding money from Hong Kong Golden Telecom Company (HKGTC).NICIL CEO Horace James“Both parties set ourselves by the 15th March for everything to conclude. (So) we’re still in negotiations,” James related. “We await some recommendations, and we have to get approvals; but nothing has been signed between the two parties as yet. Only when everything is fully finalised and agreed… but nothing has been signed,” he explained.“Both parties have made recommendations how we ought to settle the matter. We’re reviewing, and the final decision will have to be made on that. We haven’t received anything. At least they say they will pay something, but we haven’t finalised anything. We’re hoping to get that signed off soon,” James told this publication.Last month, NICIL Chairman Dr Maurice Odle had informed this publication that an interim agreement between the state and HKGTC was in force. He had explained that the state entity was considering collecting the US$5 million in parts — US$3 million first, and negotiations would have continued for the remaining sum.The saleIn 2012, NICIL had disposed of its 20 per cent shares in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph company in a sale to Hong Kong-based HKGTC to the tune of US$30 million. That company made a downpayment of US$25 million and the outstanding US$5 million was to be paid by October 22, 2014, but this was never done despite written requests from NICIL.Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, and NICIL Legal Counsel Natalia Seepersaud had subsequently travelled to China with the intention of collecting the money, but were informed that the money was already paid.Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman had later announced that Harmon was able to retrieve some documents which showed that the money was paid. But following the controversy this revelation sparked, NICIL later refuted that the money was ever paid.In the confusion that shrouded the transaction, it was even reported that a waiver of the payment was arranged with the Chinese company. This claim was promptly denied by former President Donald Ramotar.Initially, the Government had insinuated that the money was paid to someone else or some other entity other than NICIL prior to the May 2015 elections. But the former President Ramotar had such that such an insinuation is a distraction from “the real issues”, adding that the cantankerous claims of massive corruption under the PPP/C administration have yet to be proven.Meanwhile, former Executive Director of NICIL Winston Brassington in an invited comment on the matter had told Guyana Times he was unaware the outstanding monies were paid to NICIL up until December 31, 2015.“If it was paid, then the seller can easily produce evidence showing this. Payments of this nature are transferred via the banking system (wire transfer) from one bank to another and easy to check and validate. Given that the first payment was wired directly to NICIL’s US dollar bank account in Guyana, I would expect the remaining US$5M to have followed the same course,” Brassington said.
…Govt-subsidised river taxis reduced minibus revenuesThe Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated (BBCI) is running at a loss with the company experiencing minimal growth in traffic and revenue, according to the directors in the 2015 Annual Report.This has resulted in no dividends being declared for Common Shareholders that own the equity in the bridge, for the eighth successive year since operations of the Berbice Bridge was launched.BBCI held its annual general meeting on Friday at the Guyana Cooperative Insurance Services (GCIS) building on Main Street, Georgetown. However, according to the annual report, which was seen by Guyana Times, even though the company recorded a loss of $167.4 million last year, this reflects a 30 per cent improvement when compared to the loss of $239.2 million in the previous year.According to the Directors, this reduction in both traffic and revenue growth was significantly lower than projected at the planning stages of the Berbice Bridge project. It was outlined that revenues from tolls in 2015 had amounted to $1,343 million as against $1,342 million in 2014.The report revealed that of the revenue generated, some 45.2 per cent were gained from cars, 16.16 per cent from freights, 9.29 per cent from minibuses, 10.73 per cent from medium trucks, 5.23 per cent from small trucks and 4.45 per cent from pick-ups, and remaining categories 8.89 per cent. The daily average revenue earned, the directors said, amounted to $3,682,212, a minor increase of 0.14 per cent over 2014.“This minimal increase of below one per cent over the previous year was primarily due to minor increases in traffic for cars, motorcycles and large trucks. Once again, a sharp decline was observed in traffic for minibuses and ocean-going vessels, along with a decline in all other categories, inclusive of freight,” the report stated.However, it was explained that BBCI in December last year had entered an agreement with the Government, which saw the State paying a commuters’ subsidy to reduce the Bridge toll for passenger cars and mini-buses from $2200 to $1900 and for all other types of vehicles by 10 per cent, excluding vessels.“This was done on the premise that both parties would engage shortly after implementation of the said agreement on January 1, 2016 in discussion on mutually beneficial arrangements in relation to tolls, since these were to be increased as per the toll formula,” the report stated. It is uncertain if this meeting occurred.Moreover, the BBCI directors pointed out that Government’s introduction of a “subsided” River Taxi System in September 2015 for passengers only from Rosignol Stelling to New Amsterdam, would have contributed to the significant decline in minibus traffic across the Bridge, which amounts to some six per cent over the period September 21 to December 31, 2015.In addition, the report stated that the non-interest expenses before amortization and depreciation for 2015 was $276 million compared to $292 million in the previous year. This decrease of five per cent was as a result of no dredging operations being required last year.The directors added too that BBCI’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) was $1.072 billion, an increase of two per cent from 2014. However, the company’s total assets decreased from $6.7 billion to $6.5 billion in 2015, reflecting a decrease of 2.60 per cent over 2014, which was due mainly to continued amortization of concession assets, increases in property, plant and equipment, inventory and cash and cash equivalents.Additionally, the report outlined that capital expenditures for the year included the construction of a jack-up barge, a new scale for the eastern end of the bridge and a standby generator set, which are work-in-progress.