Newman condemns lawless behaviour as Gov't rejects amnesty call
Commuters await alternative transport in downtown Kingston, Monday morning, as taxi and bus operators stopped working in protest against the Government's refusal to grant a traffic ticket amnesty. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

Egeton Newman has condemned the lawless activities carried out by some members of the public transport sector during Monday's protest, but has vowed to continue the strike until the Government accedes to their demands for a traffic ticket amnesty.

Newman, who is president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services (TODSS), was reacting to a statement issued by the Cabinet which said it will not support lawlessness and disorder, but made no mention of an amnesty.

"Us reading this statement, what it is saying to us is that we are disrespected by the Government… If the statement is anything to go by, I think the public transport sector is in a [much] worse position than we were this morning and… we have been given no reason to go back to work because the Government has shown no interest in communicating to us in the way we wanted," he said.

The Cabinet, in its statement, said it "welcomes the significant rejection of today's protest actions and demands".

"We call on those who are engaging in the disruption of the transportation services to recognise the Government will not relent in its efforts to build a better transport sector and calls on all law-abiding owners and operators to continue providing their services to their fellow Jamaicans going about their lawful business," the statement read.

"We advise persons who have broken the law and as a result, have unpaid tickets, to pay their fines as ticketed," it continued.

Newman said it is expected that the protest will continue Tuesday and "until we get a word from Government to say whether or not we will be getting an amnesty".

The TODSS president said operators have been trying for three months to persuade the Government to grant operators with traffic tickets a reprieve "but they are not listening, and it came to a point now where we have to take a stand. The stand is to withdraw our services".

This action by scores of bus and taxi operators on Monday morning left many commuters stranded across several parishes. There were also reports of some protesters impeding and threatening other public passenger transport operators who did not withdraw their services.

Newton said he does not condone this behaviour which saw operators and passengers being forcibly removed from vehicles or cars belonging to those who did not wish to participate in the protest being damaged. He, however, believes that some of those actions are not being carried out by transport operators.

"We [at TODSS] are very concerned [as] we notice that there are a number of persons using the cover of this demonstration to carry out illegal acts and we are condemning those illegal acts. We believe that this should be a peaceful withdrawal of service but we notice, especially in the parish of St Catherine, there are illegal activities taking place and we highly condemn it," he said.

Newman argued, however, that while he believes people should be allowed to go about their lawful business in peace "once you have what is called a demonstration or withdrawal of service, you are going to be inconvenienced".

"We have to do what we have to do as a sector... It's unfortunate that things like this happen in terms of people being accused and abused, pulling people from vehicles, it's unfortunate but we have to do what we have to do and the best thing to do is to ask for the Government to respond to us now so that we can get back to work," he said.

Meanwhile, in a media release Monday afternoon, several private sector bodies called for an urgent and amicable resolution to the situation "as the impacts of this strike are far-reaching and pose a severe blow to efforts being made to restore the country's growth".

The groups said that the strike could result in approximately 50 per cent loss of production.

The groups, which include the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the MSME Alliance, and the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, called for inclusive and constructive dialogue with all stakeholders, inclusive of the Government, and the transport associations.

They argued that the country cannot afford any further setbacks to normalcy, as it has already seen the negative repercussions across sectors during the novel coronavirus pandemic, including learning loss by children and reduced operations in businesses.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter

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