MANAGING director of the Transport Authority (TA) Ralston Smith has deemed far-fetched claims that route taxi operators have had to fork out as much as $600,000 to obtain route taxi licences.
"The Transport Authority charges $15,000 for that licence; it is easy to get. You can walk off the road, enter a taxi association right now, put that application in. If you want that licence within 24 hours, you pay an additional $5,000, and if you want it within three days, you pay an additional $3,000. There is absolutely no incentive to pay that amount to get that type of licence, none at all," Smith said as he responded to queries on the matter by Opposition member Morais Guy during Tuesday's meeting of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
According to Smith, the route taxi licence is open and therefore there is no benefit in trying to go anywhere else to get it.
He noted that all is required is that the applicant becomes a member of a taxi association.
"So once you join the association and you pay your membership fee and it's for a year [and] for the most part, the associations charge $6,000 for a year of membership," added Smith as he argued that the mention of $600,000 would have more to do with the cost for insuring the vehicle than to pay for that type of licence.
Guy was zoning in on an allegation that members of the TA are still selling hackney carriage licences despite having been publicly closed off since 2018, which is contained in a special audit report into its operation by the Auditor General's Department (AuGD).
Smith told the PAC that the perception of corruption in relation to the sale of hackney carriage licences may be as a result of the 'middle man' created by taxi associations.
"For the most part, the hackney carriage operators are aligned to taxi companies and different organisations. And what we hear on the outside is that what has been touted as corruption may be related to that side of the arrangement when they have to go to a middleman to get a licence," said Smith.
He, however, admitted, when pressed by Guy, that the TA does not know whether this act of corruption is being done on the outside or if members of its staff are involved.
"That is one of the things we would want to get to as whether or not there is a scheme on the outside or whether or not there are any persons within the organisation itself that would be part and parcel of this whole arrangement," he said.
In the audit report, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis said that the allegations regarding hackney carriage licences were not pursued, "given the size of the hackney operations or limited resources and the fact that the allegation would be better investigated by an anti-corruption agency with powers to prosecute".
PAC Chairman Julian Robinson asked if the TA has engaged either the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the Major Organised Crime & Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), or any other entity to investigate these allegations, being that it is outside the scope the auditor general.
In his response Smith said the authority has not engaged any of those entities to look into the matter.
"But I am certain that it is something down the road that we are prepared to ensure that our processes are above board," added Smith as he pointed out that he is inviting any anti-corruption agency that can assist in getting to the bottom of this challenge to do so.