PM urges van men to be reasonable with demands
Prime minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is of the opinion that an overwhelming majority of Vincentians do not support the demands made by the Vincentian Transportation Association (VINTAS).
On Tuesday during a meeting between VINTAS and government officials, several demands were made by VINTAS president Royron Adams and his executive.
The demands were made during negotiations aimed at ending the withdrawal of service by some minivan owners over the government’s public transportation COVID-19 protocols.
VINTAS has asked for a reduction in fuel prices; duty free concessions on buses with a capacity of 18 seats and greater; a waiver of all traffic tickets for picking up or dropping off passengers at points other than a bus stop; a permanent economic subsidy of a minimum of EC$500 to be paid monthly; the continued sanitization of minivans and a waiver of all vehicle license fees for a period of one year and a reduction by 50 per cent thereafter.
Commenting on the issues on NBC Radio’s Morning Cup program on Wednesday, Gonsalves said VINTAS’s demands are not being supported by the public.
He said the question of a reduction in fuel price is not a well thought out as this country has the cheapest fuel in CARICOM other than Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) and maybe Guyana in the near future.
“We get some taxes from fuel. What we going to do, reduce the extent of taxes on fuel? Well if you do that, how you going pay the policemen who supposed to be on the road or the nurses or the teachers? Many of them doing very selfless work..,” Gonsalves said while noting that currently, government has a deficit of EC$50 million on the current account and has to find money to finance this deficit.
“…And is a tight rope we walking,” Gonsalves stressed while adding that if fuel prices are reduced for minibuses, there are approximately 600 minibuses, as suggested by VINTAS, but 34,000 vehicles on the road.
“You have separate gas stations for them? How it going work? and the answer is, give everybody, but not everybody asking for it; some persons say they understand the situation,” Gonsalves said while noting that gas prices are governed by a rolling three-month average.
He said VINTAS has asked for the continued sanitization of minibuses and this will continue but a number of minibus operators are not taking their buses to be cleaned, and making the argument that it stops their “hustle”.
In relation to duty free concession, the Prime Minister said duty free concessions were implemented last year for buses with a minimum of 26 seats, and buses that seat over 20 persons could get up to an 80 per cent duty free concession.
This policy gives priority to the movement of school children and tourists, specifically cruise ship passengers.
Gonsalves said duty free concessions on 18-seaters will see people, instead of buying cars, buying minibuses just to get a lower duty on a vehicle.
“We have to think this through,” the Prime Minister stated, while adding that the call for a permanent subsidy is weird.
“I thought this was something about COVID,” he said while noting that he does not see how a “permanent” subsidy and duty free concession on buses is helping deal with the issues brought on by the pandemic and policies can only be made in relation to reasonable demands.
Doing the calculations, Gonsalves said that $500 a month for van drivers means EC$6000 a year for one person and that will add up to EC$3.6 million a year if there are 600 minibus operators.
He said that driver licenses, inspection fees, motor vehicle licenses and registration amount to about EC$22.7 million a year.
“That road, eight kilometers from hospital to the post office in Layou is $23 million. One piece of road cost more than all the money we collect. We had to borrow money from CDB at 3%…,” Gonsalves noted.
He said he is willing to give the same subsidy that was given last year as he is “not a beast” and he understands what is happening, but however noted that the COVID-19 protocols currently in place have a sunset clause of one month and the government will review what happens at the end of the month.
He said some minivan owners are asking for an answer to the demands before they resume their service, but he does not function like that as he has friends, family and constituents who own minibuses and they do not agree with some of the demands.
“If anybody feel they can put a metaphoric gun to me head, they are wrong,” Gonsalves said while questioning the mindset of the persons who made the proposal.
He said in relation to traffic tickets, there are laws that regulate the dropping off and picking up of passengers and police officers will give tickets for these offences.
Gonsalves said that by law, the government cannot waive tickets already issued as the issuance of a ticket is a legal process that has commenced and the executive cannot interfere.
“I want to know by what instrument I can do that and beyond that point, I would have thought that the minibus association…wants to see proper regulations and they are calling for a modern regulation system but some of the elemental regulations you want to cast them aside?
“I know that there is a difficulty. I know there is a challenge….I want to thank those who come out and take people when times are good, the passengers are there for you. When you have a difficult time, try to squeeze and see how you can go,” Gonsalves said while noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is a problem that came from outside and persons must not add their personal, sectional interest and agendas to the problem.
“We have to do better than that and that’s my plea…,” the Prime Minister said, while noting that minivans provide an important service, but nobody in the country has baronial power, and while some may have influence, everyone has to be reasonable.