Low take-up of gas grant among transport operators
Glitch in application database blamed
NEWMAN... there is a major problem and the ministry must come clean and tell the sector exactly what the position is.

SOME public transport operators say they have been facing a myriad of challenges trying to access the $25,000 promised to those eligible for the Government's gas relief grant, which opened for applications four months ago.

At least one transport group says its members are contemplating a march on the finance ministry to get their point across, if they can't get the issues resolved. Head of Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS) Egeton Newman told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday that the operators have reached out unsuccessfully to the finance ministry, to have their grouse formally heard.

"There are a lot of problems. I have persons calling me up to now [saying] that they have renewed their licence from March and all they are told in the texts that are turned to them, is that they are not a valid PPV holder. So we know that thousands of applicants have been turned down, because there seems to be a glitch at the Ministry of Finance that they're not telling us about," the transport operator said.

According to Newman, about 13,000 people have applied, and less than 2,000 have been successful.

"There is a major problem and the ministry must come clean and tell the sector exactly what the position is. This grand announcement, and that's it. Tell us there is no money there," he said, pointing out that persons who have been providing service in the sector for over 30 years have been turned down.

Finance Minister Nigel Clarke told the House of Representatives on Tuesday that so far, only 7,000 applications have been registered with the Transport Authority. This is out of the 17,000 which the initiative set out to target, and represents just over 20 per cent of operators in the sector.

He explained, after questions were raised by the Opposition that, "If all applications were validated as being eligible then that would be under $200 million, so we are well short. We have a lot of room for persons to apply."

At the same time he defended the effectiveness of the online mechanism which Government has been using throughout the COVID-19 period to assist citizens: "We've proven the process...signing up takes a minute on the phone and there are only a few pieces of data required. It is a process that is auditable, which is very important for programmes such as these — and very transparent."

Further, Clarke said the reason for people not applying could be complex, promising that the ministry would probe the issue.

"When you're dealing with these number of persons and there isn't a paper based process established, having an online process provides assurance that you can account for expenditure of who gets what," he said.

Opposition spokesman on transport Mikael Phillips pointed out that there is no lack of need among the more than 30,000 service providers in the transport sector, but that there is an issue with the system.

Applications opened in June for the public passenger vehicle (PPV) operators gas relief grant for owners of contract carriages and route taxi vehicles. The Government announced the Transport Authority-administered initiative in March, amidst rising oil prices. Under the scheme, operators were told they would be eligible for assistance once they meet certain requirements, including having a road licence issued no later than April 30, 2022.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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