End the political trough at JUTC

Friday, October 13, 2017

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We can't say we're surprised by the latest revelations of waste of public money at the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC). After all, we had long come to the conclusion that the State-run bus company had been transformed into a political pork barrel shortly after it was established in 1999, and has operated as such ever since successive governments.

So, the latest bit of mephitic madness from the JUTC is that it is heavily overstaffed — by at least 300 — and that it costs Jamaican taxpayers $25 million each month to pay these people who are not needed at the company.

It doesn't seem to matter that the JUTC's net operating loss has already got to $256.7 million since the start of this financial year, or that the bus company is projected to lose billions by the end of this fiscal year.

What obviously does matter to the unscrupulous few is that jobs are provided for people who are fiercely loyal to the island's major political parties, even when those individuals lack the skills and qualifications needed.

The unfortunate reality is this corrupt practice is not unique to the JUTC. It spreads across the public sector and, quite frankly, contributes to many of the inefficiencies that stain the reputations of those civil servants who uphold the highest tenets of professionalism.

Having a public bus system is vital to a country's productive capacity. However, the manner in which that bus service is managed is extremely important.

The JUTC has been haemorrhaging for years. In fact, in February this year, the Jamaica Public Bodies Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure tabled in Parliament stated that the company was expected to end the 2017/2018 financial year with a loss of just over $4.5 billion.

Despite its best efforts, the company has not, for a long time, been able to get its revenues above its expenses. It appears that the State has basically accepted that it must subsidise the service, most likely viewing it as a public good.

But in a country such as ours, with limited financial resources and heavy demand for social services, we cannot ignore the importance of having a service, such as that provided by the JUTC, cover its costs. It is just too heavy a burden on the public purse.

It seems to us that the Government needs to seek assistance from individuals who are skilled in running businesses to oversee the operations of the JUTC. Then, it needs to take the hard decision to rid the company of political hacks and the unskilled who are there unjustly collecting public money.

If it has not yet done so, the JUTC should do an assessment of its routes and, where it finds any that are not financially viable, examine the possibility of having them operated under franchise which, at worst, could result in break-even performance.

The Administration should also look at what obtains in jurisdictions where public transportation is being operated successfully and try to determine how those systems can be tailored to Jamaica's circumstances.

What is certain, though, is that the country cannot continue having the JUTC bleed the country dry. It needs to be operated as a business, not a political trough.




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