The Freundel Stuart administration has secured $5 million from the Consolidated Fund to prop up the beleaguered Transport Board and pay off some of the corporation’s long line of creditors.
Just over $2 million is to be paid to Simpson Motors for credit that company extended to the state entity and $3 million to pay other creditors for goods and services.
This was announced today by Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley, as he led off debate on a bill to supplement last year’s Estimates for the Transport Board. Speaking in the absence of any push back from the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, which has boycotted today’s sitting of Parliament, Lashley acknowledged the poor service commuters were confronting daily in recent months.
In fact, he revealed today that no less than 70 buses from the Transport Board’s fleet were presently off the road each day due mainly to mechanical and transmission failures.
“For the last two months, we have been experiencing some challenges with respect to availability, and servicing of the routes, particularly some of the routes to the schools in the country,” he conceded.
At the same time, the Member of Parliament for St Philip North said the funds would also be used to purchase parts for buses that had been abandoned.
Lashley also used the last session of the parliamentary cycle to defend the controversial hiring by the Transport Board of a Trinidadian consultant who he said had succeeded in reviving several buses that were long out of commission mainly for transmission problems.
The Minister also reported to the House that the Transport Board was also hamstrung by problems with the Ministry of Transport’s disabled hoist used for legally-required inspection of the public transport fleet.
As a result, he said it was forced to use privately operated systems which resulted in increased costs to the highly indebted statutory corporation.
“We have agreed today to pay the critical creditors to provide the necessary parts . . . to get these buses out [on the road],” Lashley explained.
The latest bail out for the loss-making entity comes on the heels of a recent suggestion that Government needs to go the route of privatizing the state-run bus service which has been proving to be a drain on the state’s finances.
However, the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has already boldly declared that it would not privatize the transport system if it were to be elected for a third straight term next election, following a controversial suggestion made late last year by economist and Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for Christ Church East Central Ryan Straughn that it should be placed on the proverbial chopping block.
Straughn’s public pronouncement during his delivery of the Eighth Tom Adams memorial lecture, also did not sit well with his own party, which has since distanced itself from the talk of divesting the Transport Board.
However, addressing the issue of costs associated with maintaining its aging fleet today, Lashley said as much as $18 million is spent on parts.
According to the Minister, of the Transport Board’s 230-strong fleet 77 buses are 21 years old; 101 of them are 18 years old; 29 buses are 14 years old and 65 buses have been in use for 12 years.
“We have not purchased buses since 2006 and given the ages of these buses and the fact that the public transport runs to a scheduled service, we expect that given the ages of these buses they will be in need of repairs,” he said.
Earlier this week – another loss making state entity – the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation also received a bailout package, with Parliament approving a grant of $9.2 million for the state broadcaster to assist it in meeting outstanding debt.
However, during that debate Government minister Donville Inniss stopped just short of calling for the privatization of the state broadcaster, while stating that in these times the state had no place in direct involvement in media operations, but should be providing a regulatory environment.