In the lead up to general elections, the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) today sought to turn the political spotlight on the operations of the state-run Transport Board, accusing the statutory agency of blatant discrimination.
However, in a swift rebuttal, General Manager Sandra Forde dismissed the allegation made by BLP Chairman George Payne as absolute “foolishness”.
While updating reporters on plans for his party’s Heroes’ Day picnic and political rally along the Ermy Bourne Highway on Saturday, Payne complained that no response had been forthcoming from the Transport Board to his party’s request made in February for 15 charter buses.
And while suggesting that politics was at play, the BLP chairman pointed out that the request was nothing out of the norm, as it was what the BLP had been doing for years to facilitate its annual picnic.
“I don’t know why we were rejected, I am a member of the Barbados Labour Party and I believe that it is political. It is political because of the fact that this is an election year and I believe that they [Transport Board] have been directed to ensure that the Barbados Labour Party is not accommodated with any buses,” the BLP chairman said, adding that with the Transport Board desperately in need of cash to replace its aging bus fleet, which has fallen from 140 to 60 buses, he was baffled over its decision to turn away commercial business.
“I would think that our business would be welcomed, but one of things that would be disconcerting is that they have not even gotten back to us to tell us why. We are at a loss as to why they have not been able to respond because this is easy cash for the coffers of the Transport Board,” Payne insisted, while revealing that the sum of $10,500 was now likely to go to private operators instead.
“We wrote them in February, we wrote them again a few weeks after, and they still did not reply,” Payne, who is the BLP’s candidate for St Andrew, told reporters.
“We sent them emails a little later and they indicated that they would have gotten back to us, but up to this day they have not gotten back to us,” he stressed, adding that “this was not the case last year as we had their response within a week of writing them.
“We have taken a decision to hire 185 ZR vans because we want to make sure that transportation is not a problem,” the BLP chairman said.
However, when contacted by Barbados TODAY, Forde expressed shock over Payne’s position, saying not only had the Transport Board responded “positively” by email this morning to the BLP’s request, but that it had been in constant contact with the Opposition party since the request was made.
“We are professionals here at the Transport Board. They are our customers and we would meet their request to the best of our ability. Our response was positive and up to this morning we did send an email to the [Executive Assistant to the Opposition Leader] Pat Parris and that was in line with other correspondence that would have been sent to them. [Therefore] that accusation [made by Payne] is foolishness because we don’t operate at that level. I take my job very seriously,” Forde said.
However, this is not the first such complaint levelled against a statutory agency by the BLP in recent months.
Last October during the party’s 79th annual conference General Secretary Dr Jerome Walcott accused the state-run Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) of refusing to broadcast BLP events, even when the Opposition party offered to pay.
However, unlike the Transport Board, the CBC has not denied those charges.