Private Bus Owners Drop Bombshell
By Thameenah Razeek
Dropping a bombshell regarding the Public Transport Service and its irregularities, President of the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) disclosed that bus operators and employees have to pay around Rs 200 million per month to those working in State institutions seeking bribes, including timekeepers at bus stations.
Even though the revelation was made last week, according to the President of LPBOA, Gemunu Wijeratne, the mafia had been in the sector from as far back as two decades due to the negligence of the officials working in Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), National Transport Commission (NTC), and Provincial Councils (PCs).
Neither heads of SLTB or NTC denied the allegation made by Wijeratne, but they also acknowledged there is a mafia created in the sector from a long time back and agreed with all other allegations Wijeratne pointed out. However, the main attention was drawn to the officials who are carrying the designation called ‘Time Keepers’. Wijeratne went on slamming the so called time keepers being bribed in a bid to fulfil their other agendas like retrieving information about other buses.
A Time Keeper for Public Transport Services is the person who is monitoring the time of arrival and departure of buses at major bus stops, which is presently done manually. In most cases it has been observed that such individuals purposely falsify these records, resulting in a poor service to commuters and poor utilization of buses and human resources.
Consequently, the bus owners have to face a loss of about 25 per cent of their revenue due to this and Wijeratne claimed that there are no ongoing investigations to crackdown on such extortionists in the same manner as they conduct raids and operations to capture underworld figures and drug traffickers.
Having PCs and the arbitrary actions taken by them, the chiefs of the councils are the very ones who are shielding and feeding these corrupted time keepers from law. Wijeratne pointed that the power vested with PCs are a handful and the authorities are misusing the influence and attempt to sweep all huge issues under the rug without giving it a second thought. It has been years since PCs were dissolved and all the power vested on PCs is converted to the Governors by default which also led to another arbitrary ruling.
While reiterating that the PCs are the actual wrongdoers, he noted claimed that the time keepers are staying in one place for years without a single transfer. “There are time keepers who have already built their houses in the area, staying for around six to seven years in the same place, cultivating his business with other bribers. Timekeepers are in the same place for years and when a new head is appointed to the PCs, these timekeepers will negotiate with those officials to stay in the same place by extending their tenure,” he claimed.
It was crystal clear that the both parties including the bus employees as well as the time keepers are currently engaging in an illegal activity, which is bribery. However, the mind-blowing fact is that the NTC has not received a single complaint about these bribing. At the same time none of the allegations forwarded by Wijeratne was negated at any point and it was also exposed that the time keepers are motivated not only because of the bribes the bus employees are constantly giving, but also the Governors and officials of the PC.
Pointing out that there are irregularities happening in the sector which they are aware about, Director General Commander (Retired) Nilan Miranda said the commission has no power to take action against anyone without a complaint. The wonder is that NTC does not have any single complaint in this regard which highlighted that not a single party wants them captured to stop the mafia, since it was there in the industry as a mutual relationship.
However, Wijeratne noted that in the year 2018 he lodged a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) regarding bribing time keepers and the culprits were subsequently punished. However, he said the culprits when released got back to their bribery operarion. “The Time Keepers not only bribe the bus employees but also the politicians and officials in PCs. So, we thought there is no point of lodging any complaint against anyone since it will only waste our time and money,” he accused.
The Investigation Officers of the CIABOC apprehended a Time-Keeper attached to the Road Passenger Transport Authority (RPTA) - Eastern Province in 2018 and produced him before the Magistrate in the Magistrate’s Court – Ampara. He was charged for obtaining a bribe of Rs 100/- from an employee of a bus plying the Akkaraipattu - Batticaloa route. In order to keep the bus stationed in the queue until their turn and for assurance to drive without any obstacles from other buses plying that route.
“First of all, these associations should lodge a complaint with NTC saying that they have to bribe by this particular officer at this particular area. We are still wondering why no one is lodging any complaint,” he said while showing the reasons for having zero complaints regarding bribes.
The Director General was very firm that action should be taken against both parties which are bus employees as well as time keepers. He showed that the time keepers are filling their pockets with bribes only because the bus owners or drivers are willing to give bribes. Apart from that he said the allegation regarding the arbitrary decisions made by PCs are true whereas no authority to rule them out.
Speaking further Miranda emphasised the fact that there are three types of time keepers who work for three different government institutions. Time keepers working under SLTB, Inter Provincial which is controlled by NTC, and Intra Provincial, the government body controlled by the PCs. Therefore, a very few time keepers work under SLTB and there are 3,000 time keepers under NTC.
Peak and off-peak bribes
When contacted, SLTB Chairman Kingsley Ranawaka pointed out why these irregularities are not happening in SLTB bus service because the drivers or the employees of the service are not being paid by collected bus fares, whereas it’s different with private bus service. He said the competition is between the private buses since they compete with one another in trying to get as much passengers as they could.
“These private bus drivers are not only bribing the time keepers but also each and every person that is on their route starting from the king coconut seller. If these bus drivers want to know at what time the previous bus passed several destinations, they will bribe the king coconut seller to keep the track records”, Miranda said illustrating what is actually happening here. However, it was noted that the bribe is a huge amount and it is changed according to the time period which depends of peak and off-peak time.
Wijeratne showed that all of these time keepers or the bus employees are bribing because there is no proper time table scheduled for arrival and departure time. Miranda and Ranawaka vehemently denied that allegation because they have released proper time tables to each depot. However, both of them clearly mentioned that time keepers who work under Intra Provincial sector do not have any time table since there is no functioning PCs.
“So, politicians are handling State employees as they wish. There is no official to monitor anyone. If the Governor or any other politician working under him wants to support some businessman, he will definitely take a bribe to keep records about other bus arrival and departure time. Even though the time keepers should maintain the smoothness of the Public sector by not delaying the buses, it is not happening unfortunately because there is no proper functioning body to regulate them,” Ranawaka claimed.
The time keepers under intra provincial sector are acting according to their whims and fancies since there is no proper body to regulate them.
The bribing menace was there for decades and no official was able to stop it, but also complaints are rarely lodged with CIABOC in this regard.
Speaking further Ranawaka noted that the legal framework of the establishment of PCs to provide for a set of structures and positions that are assigned political, administrative, and fiscal responsibilities that must be discharged for the proper performance of the powers and functions assigned to the province, are not being done according to proper technical ways. Even though this section should examine the nature, scope and content of responsibilities of each of the structures and positions assigned by the legal framework to establish provincial councils, is not happening and all the corruption will take place in this institute called PC,” Ranawaka explained.
Most of the PCs that we reached either did not know who time keepers were or no one was there to regulate them. We also tried to reach one of the Governors, but they were either not available for a comment or did not want to comment on this issue.
The two heads of the main stakeholders, concluded that bribery and corruption is out there in Public Transport which functions using the taxpayer’s money. Even though the officials are aware of the menace no action could be taken, since no complaints have been lodged with NTC or CIABOC. The one and only reason being that the space has been created for these corrupted officials, since the PCs are taking arbitrary action and currently there is no regulatory body to monitor the system.