Kurupukari ferry hikes implemented Rupununi businessmen disturbed By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
October 9, 2002

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Fare hikes at the Kurupukari ferry crossing on the Mabura to Lethem route are being criticised by businessmen in the Rupununi as unfair and unreasonable.

According to the new fares which came into force yesterday, trucks are being charged $25,000 up from $9,000 and Land Cruisers/Pickups $14,000 from the previous $4,000.

The Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) in a statement yesterday said it viewed the hikes as disturbing, especially in light of the likely impact it would have on the prices of goods being transported to the town by trucks.

The chamber said it will now be forced to pay increased freight charges although the road at present is in a deplorable state, especially south of the crossing at Kurupukari which has not been brought up to standard.

The members of the RCCI are said to be particularly perturbed since according to them they have noticed only slight improvements to the road which cannot justify the step increases.

The increases are part of a pre-arranged agreement between Mekdeci Machinery and Construction Inc. (MMC) and the Ministry of Public Works and Communications following a pact between the two for the former to improve and maintain the Mabura to Lethem roadway.

On June 19, a release spelt out the increases which were expected to have been enforced from August.

Contacted yesterday, MMC official, Colonel Carl Morgan (rtd) confirmed that the increases which should have been instituted at the commencement of the agreement in May, had been put into effect yesterday.

According to Morgan, the hikes are a way of recouping monies the company had expended on work to upgrade the northern side of the roadway to the Kurupukari crossing. He further said that work on the southern side is expected to commence next week and would entail filling some of the most inaccessible portions of the 160-mile stretch of road.

Progress on the road repairs, Morgan said, had been affected by recent rains during which the company suffered losses.

Since the rainfall ceased, the company managed to clear and smooth the northern section of the carriageway up to the Kurupukari crossing which would facilitate travel from the city to that point in approximately five hours.

Communications Consultant in the Ministry of Public Works, Ajay Baksh yesterday noted that the increases had been agreed by the ministry as part of the existing pact between the parties.

According to Baksh, a meeting convened between the RCCI and Minister of Transport and Hydraulics, Anthony Xavier, shortly after the conclusion of the agreement with MMC had been used to clear up several of the concerns of the region's business community.

At that meeting owing to concerns expressed by the chamber about the effect the proposed increases were likely to have on the community, it was decided that they would not have been put in place immediately but by a certain time frame.

Further, it was agreed that a specified amount of work (20%) should have been completed prior to the hike. This, Baksh said, had been completed resulting in the permanent secretary acceding to the hike request from MMC.

The RCCI said the steep increases will have a severe impact on prices of commodities in the region.

According to an RCCI executive member, the body at an emergency general meeting on Monday evening, apart from evaluating the likely effects of the hike, explored other ideas including ceasing use of the roadway until work had proceeded to an acceptable level.

According to the executive member, businesses in the region could easily source goods from neighbouring Brazil at far cheaper rates than those obtained from George-town.

He questioned the wisdom of applying the increase now especially that the road remains in a deplorable state, and expressed the view that MMC was seeking to make them pay for the work being undertaken.

This was, however, refuted by Morgan who said that the company has with its own funds, as per contract, undertaken work on some critical sections along the northern stretch of the road to Kurupukari.

He contended that the company was losing between $500,000 and $1 million per week on the project. According to Morgan, once the road was brought to a reasonable standard there is the likelihood of increased usage which will mitigate the cost.

This position was shared by Baksh who said that there is a likelihood of the toll declining once there is increased usage of the roadway. He stated that the company was undertaking the remedial work with its own money and that a contract signed with it in May, had allowed for the raising of fares at the Kurupukari Crossing to offset expenses of the upgrading work.

Nevertheless, the RCCI remained adamant that the increases could have been lower and it is recommending instead the charge of $15,000 for trucks and $6,000 for cruisers as a reasonable figure.