Two of the stories published in this issue of the Stabroek Business are concerned with the issue of minibuses, privately owned buses, which for many years have been serving as public transport. Much of the reason for this eventuality has to do with the failure of the state to effectively manage a publicly owned bus service though the upside of this is that privately run minibuses are a significant employer of labour and provide livelihoods (in some cases, subsidies) for several hundred families. In fact, the statistics provided in one of the two stories published in this issue and based on figures provided by the United Minibus Union (UMU), illustrate the roles which minibuses play both as public transport and as an employer of labour.
It is, however, no secret, that minibuses have brought with them an abhorrent culture of indiscipline, in some instances, downright lawlessness. Some have even been linked to various types of criminal behaviour. It is a culture that both affects and afflicts – in one way or another – a significant portion of the country’s population, its vices reinforced by a strong corrupt relationship between minibus crews and ranks of the Police Traffic Department who have come to regard minibuses as valued subsidies to their incomes.
What this has meant is that the maintenance of lawful behaviour in the minibus industry has become considerably subsumed beneath the competing agenda of law-breaking and kickbacks so that in the final analysis it is the commuter that suffers.
Talk of reining in the excesses of minibuses as well as the coarseness of the ‘service’ provided by touts for some years has been attended by a palpable absence of action. This newspaper’s efforts to determine why the promised Code of Conduct for minibus operators is not yet in effect have led nowhere and frankly we can think of no good reason why that remains the case.
All of this, mind you, is occurring in an environment where commuters continue to express disgust with the service on some routes and where minibus operators are being linked to serious crimes including robberies and rape, so much so that the minibus service, as a whole, has in large measure, come to be regarded as a necessary evil.
Still, the reality is that in excess of 200,000 commuters, mostly workers and schoolchildren rely on minibuses for transportation and the longer the delay in bringing into effect an enforceable Code of Conduct for minibus operators, the longer we continue to put those commuters at various types of risk.
It is this newspaper’s understanding that the principal parties in the process associated with the implementation of the Code of Conduct are the United Minibus Union, the Ministry of Business, the Guyana Police Force and the National Road Safety Council. We believe that at this stage the aforementioned entities ought to know more than enough about minibuses, their modus operandi and the challenges we have had to face with the sector to press ahead with the full and effective implementation of the Code of Conduct.
That is not to say that we do not have our concerns, the most critical of which is the enforceability of the Code. The United Minibus Union, a draft Code of Conduct says, will be responsible for ensuring “the implementation of the Code with the support of the Guyana Police Force.” Our concerns here have to do, first, with the capacity of the Union to effectively enforce the Code and what is almost certainly likely to be the reluctance of traffic ranks involved in corrupt transactions with minibus operators to do so. Here, it seems, it is necessary to involve the Guyana Police Force at the very highest level with a view to ensuring that the Traffic Department is ‘on board’ with the full and effective implementation of the Code. That, in the circumstances, will probably not be an easy task since some ranks are bound to ponder what they will have to give up in order to ensure enforcement. That is where the upper echelons of the Force, not least the Commissioner of Police and the Traffic Chief must hold the line.
That being said, there does not seem to be any good reason why the ratification of the existing draft Code (after such amendments as are deemed necessary) should not proceed expeditiously so that the Code itself can be fully implemented with a time frame of perhaps no more than a month or two, at best.