Opposition Spokesperson on Transport, Mikael Phillips, has lambasted the Transport Ministry for failing to play a substantial role in the processing of the Public Passenger Vehicle (PPV) gas relief grants to owners of contract carriages and route taxi vehicles.
“The thing is just cumbersome. It has not worked, and my displeasure, as I said, is that the Ministry of Transport has not taken a vested interest in ensuring the system works for the sector itself,” declared Phillips.
His comments come on the heels of several complaints from owners of PPV that they are unable to apply for or gain approval for the grant, due to the difficulties they face in using the online platform.
Applications had opened online in June for the much-needed gas relief of $25,000, which was announced by Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr Nigel Clarke, in March, to cushion the rising cost of fuel.
While speaking at a recent forum hosted by the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODDS), Phillips said the current system where the grants are being processed by the Finance and the Public Service Ministry needs to be urgently revamped, as it is not working effectively.
According to him, the Transport Ministry, through its Permanent Secretary, Dr Alwin Hales, must begin oversight of the gas relief venture.
“From the PAAC (Public Administration and Appropriations Committee), which I am chairman of, we instructed the permanent secretary to take an active role, especially in the petrol grant that is supposed to be given now – the $25,000 – because it is in the best interest of the Ministry of Transport to oversee, at least jointly, with the Ministry of Finance, (so) that persons can benefit from these grants,” said Phillips.
He opined that, “The Ministry of Finance is only concerned about who is qualified and the disbursement of funds.
“If there is an issue with the portal… You know it was very disappointing when I asked the permanent secretary (in the Transport Ministry) how many operators in the system and how many persons approved, and his response was, ‘It is not my purview, but it is the Ministry of Finance’,” Phillips recalled.
“… And we instructed him (the permanent secretary) to take a vested interest in it (the gas relief grant). So it is really for pressure to come on the Ministry of Transport, not the Ministry of Finance,” he indicated.
Phillips, who is also the North West Manchester Member of Parliament (MP), further argued that the Transport Ministry has the “jurisdiction” over the transport sector.
This, he said, should nudge the ministry to take a “vested interest” in the difficulties being faced by PPV operators in applying for the grants.
In relation to the delay between March and June for the application to commence, the PNP spokesperson on transport blamed the Transport Authority for its slow pace in handing over the necessary data to the Finance Ministry.
“The reason why it was taking so long, because remember the Minister (of Finance, Dr Nigel Clarke), announced the $25,000 grant in his presentation in March,” Phillips stated.
“In June, when I asked the question, he (Dr Clarke) said he was waiting on information from the Transport Authority for him to get the list of those who had renewed their licences.
“The Transport Authority also said to me that they took some time to feed them with the information…,” Phillips said.
In reiterating that the whole situation has been “cumbersome”, Phillips repeated his call for the Transport Ministry to act on behalf of PPV operators and assist in making the process smoother for the beneficiaries.