Transport feud

Minister Daryl Vaz and his Opposition counterpart Mikael Phillips on Tuesday jousted over the recent fare increase granted to taxi and bus operators as a spat between the Government and Opposition on the matter climbed to a crescendo.

Tuesday’s round in the dispute opened when Phillips withdrew from the Transport Sector Committee, claiming that Vaz was trying to use him as a tool of distraction in order to mislead Jamaica over policy positions developed by the People’s National Party (PNP).

The Opposition spokesman made his announcement after Vaz slammed PNP President Mark Golding’s broadside against the Government at a party rally on Sunday in St Mary.

Golding had accused the Government of not cushioning the impact of the increase on the public, even as he acknowledged that the public transport operators needed the fare increase.

In a sharp response, Vaz, who had announced the phased increase of 19 per cent effective October 15, and 16 per cent effective April next year, said Golding was seeking to score cheap political points as the Opposition was consulted in the deliberations leading up to the announced fare increases and had played a part in the final decision.

However, Phillips, in his statement on Tuesday, demanded that Vaz “immediately withdraw his intemperate and ill-considered attack” on Golding “for reaffirming known positions of the PNP to make public transport more affordable for commuters and operators”.

Phillips said Golding, in his speech in St Mary, had “highlighted ways and means to manage escalating public transport costs, and this has been a part of the Opposition’s transport policy and adumbrated in the sectoral debates for three successive years”.

He said Vaz failed to acknowledge that Golding had also “affirmed that something had to be done for the operators as the failure of the Government to implement sustainable policies had compounded the problems being faced by the operators, particularly in rural Jamaica”.

Phillips also said that he had informed Vaz at the outset of establishing the Transport Sector Committee that the Opposition’s participation would not include deliberating on fares.

“I, therefore, was not a part of the sub-committee which made the recommendation for a 35 per cent fare increase in two stages of 19 per cent on October 15, 2023, and a compounded 16 per cent on April 1, 2024,” Phillips said.

He said that on October 13, after studying the increase, especially for rural commuters, he had proposed “a comprehensive policy approach, including lowering the cost of fuel and funds for re-fleeting obsolete rural buses”.

Phillips said the Opposition further recommended that the Government cap, for a period, the special consumption ad valorem tax on fuel at US$67.50 a barrel, as oil was now US$85.

He accused Vaz of engaging in “cheap politics” and an attempt “to misrepresent the PNP’s position”.

Phillips said his participation in the Transport Sector Committee was in the spirit of trying to find a national approach based on genuine efforts by all sides and declared his commitment to the effort to forge a national approach.

“However, it is now clear that the minister intends to use my participation as a tool of distraction, misleading Jamaica over policy positions developed by the PNP, leader of the Opposition, the shadow cabinet, and myself. I have no intention of being used by the minister and, I am, therefore, unable to further participate in the committee,” Phillips said in his statement, adding that he will find other effective means of continuing dialogue with all stakeholders in the sector.

In response, Vaz called a news conference at his office and told journalists he left Tuesday’s sitting of the House shortly after receiving a copy of Phillips’s statement.

“I left Parliament early because I was dejected, deflated, and, basically, traumatised to know that all of the good work that has been done since May 24, since I took over [as transport minister], was being threatened to be derailed, all for political reasons,” he said.

“I say that because I have always tried, in my position as minister, in whatever portfolio I have gotten, to work… with the four Cs — consultation, commitment, communication and consensus — and I do believe that we have been able to achieve that since taking over this portfolio responsibility.

“Today, I put aside my anger, my emotions, to try and deal with this in the best interest of the country, first of all, and of course the transport sector,” Vaz said.

He argued that since Independence “partisan politics has blocked progress” in the country, “and what we are seeing is, once again… the attempted triumph of raw political expediency over the national good at all cost”.