The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government is being advised that as part of measures to curtail the country’s ballooning fiscal debt it should reverse its 2008 signature decision to introduce free bus rides for school children.
Business executive George Connolly told the DLP’s lunchtime lecture Friday afternoon at the party’s George Street headquarters, the administration simply could not sustain the programme.
In any case, he said, Government ought to get out of the transport business altogether, a suggestion that it should privatize the state-run Transport Board.
This could be a contentious decision, since the DLP in its 2013 re-election bid made it a campaign issue, charging that the Barbados Labour Party, then led by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, would engage in the “socially irresponsible” exercise of putting the Transport Board in private sector hands.
Insisting that he held no “political position” on the issue, Connolly, described as a DLP supporter, told party faithful there was “no way that one could continue to take a product that cost money to produce and give it away for free”.
“I don’t have a political position on this issue, I have a commercial position. If I produce a product that cost a dollar and I make a determination that I am going to give it away, then I am a charity and charities have special rights and privileges. Governments have an abysmal track record when it comes to providing this service without it costing significant amounts and I think it is a bad idea to offer free bus fare to anyone.
“Buses cost about $600,000 to get on the road, we have to pay the drivers, we have to pay the insurance. Government has a responsibility to make sure that you can move your people around and that is a social responsibility. However that social responsibility could be enforced using the private sector,” he stressed.
The business executive contented that not only would this bitter medicine help to stop the haemorrhaging of Government’s coffers, but it would also ramp up efficiency within the sector, providing Government holds the reins in terms of regulating the industry.
“I think that using the private sector in enforcing that social responsibility would put some constraints in terms of accountability, in terms of management, in terms of efficiency and delivery. We can take examples from all across the world where the government has oversight but it is a private sector business.
“I think Government should be an effective regulator because you don’t want profiteering on the backs of the people. You want to be able to make sure that business is able to make a decent enough profit that it can continue to invest and grow and take care of its shareholders, but you don’t want wild profiteering,” he argued.
Connolly chided both the current and previous administrations for allowing the continuation of a shared transport service, which he said placed the public sector at a clear disadvantage.
“The ZR’s are a different animal because the process for the ZRs is effective. The ZR’s run the short urban routes leaving the long rural routes for the bus service. I don’t know what kind of a government, who is running a bus service in competition with the private sector, only takes the unprofitable routes,” he said.