The Sunday Leader

District Secs Running Bus Permit Racket

  • Transport Commission accused of allowing northern secretariats to operate at their whim

by Nirmala Kannangara

The National Transport Commission’s (NTC) failure to regularise the passenger service permit charges in the country has enabled the district secretaries in the Northern Province to refrain from charging the rightful rates for route permits, route permit holders in the Southern Province have alleged.

The five northern district secretaries are of the view that the people in the north need not make any contribution towards the national coffers and that it is the responsibility of the government to look after the people of that province.

It is alleged that the Transport Commission has allowed the district secretaries in the Northern Province to issue route permits for a mere Rs. 3,500 when in other provinces nearly Rs. 75,000 has to be paid for the permit depending on the distance of the route. As a result, the five district secretariats have collectively prevented millions of rupees from going into government coffers.

It is the NTC and the Provincial Road Passenger Transport Authority in each provincial council in the country that issue passenger transport permits for all private buses. According to the National Transport Commission Act No: 37 of 1991, tenders have to be called to issue new passenger service permits and the permits are given to the highest bidders. However, in the Northern Province, tenders are not called but the permits are given by the respective district secretaries to known parties.

According to a private bus owner in Mannar who wished to remain anonymous, bus owners in the Northern Province get the annual permit for Rs. 3,500 but added that they have to pay a bribe to officials involved which comes close to the monthly permit charge in other provinces.

“Officially we pay Rs. 3,500 but unofficially we have to bribe them,” the Mannar bus owner said.

The NTC was set up under the NTC Act where the Commission has to advise the government on the national policy relating to transport services by private buses and also to determine the rates to be charged for the issue or renewal of permits, to ensure the provision of omnibus services on un-remunerative routes, by entering, after the consideration of competing bids, into contracts with persons for the provision of those services and to enter into agreements with any person for the provision of inter-provincial omnibus services and to issue passenger carriage permits in respect thereof.

However, the five Northern Province District Secretaries in Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Killinochchi, Mannar and Vavuniya issue the route permits with out calling for tenders violating the National Transport Commission Act according to their own whims and fancies. It has also been revealed that certain district secretaries and the respective police divisions have allowed certain private buses to operate within the province without having any route permit.

“Being government officials, the five district secretaries should know how to follow government rules and regulations. I am now operating five buses within the Northern Province and when the NTC called tenders I submitted applications for four route permits and got the permits; each cost nearly Rs. 75,000 for a month whereas the permit I got for my fifth bus which was from the Killinochchi District Secretariat, cost me only Rs. 3,500 for one year. The NTC either should reduce our monthly permit cost to match the permit fee charged by the Northern District Secretaries or cancel the permits the district secretaries have issued and call for new tenders and charge the NTC fee,” a private bus owner in Killinochchi told The Sunday Leader on condition of anonymity.

The Sunday Leader is in possession of route permits issued by the district secretariats in the Northern Province and the permits issued by the NTC which have followed the NTC stipulated guidelines. It is puzzling as to why the NTC and the Transport Ministry are having a deaf and dumb attitude in this regard although the manner in which the northern district secretaries issue route permits has been brought up by the relevant authorities continuously.

Chief Operation Superintendent, Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), Upali Kiriwaththuduwa who is also the Monitoring Manager SLTB for the Northern Province told The Sunday Leader that all his requests to regularise route permit charges in the Northern Province had fallen on deaf ears as neither the Transport Minister nor the Chairman NTC have instructed the five district secretaries to abide by the NTC guidelines.

Kiriwaththuduwa accused the five DSs of making statements openly that they cannot charge higher rates from their people in order to bring revenue to the central government and that it is the central government’s responsibility to look after the northern people.

“All government higher officials in the north including the district secretaries are bringing back racism to the north although the general public is innocent,” Kiriwaththuduwa said.

According to Kiriwaththuduwa, although temporary permits can be issued only for those who have permanent permits, the district secretaries in the north issue temporary permits even to those who do not have permanent permits which is illegal.

“In the event a bus

with a permanent route permit is out of order, the owner of that bus can request for a temporary permit to another bus to ply the same route in the absence of the permanent bus.

 

However, the DSs issue temporary permits to those who do not have permanent route permits,” Kiriwaththuduwa alleged.

Kiriwaththuduwa accused the Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and Chairman NTC, M.A.B. Hemachandra of not taking any action although at a meeting held on January 29, an assurance was given by Hemachandra to look into how permits are renewed for a lower rate.

“A meeting was called by the NTC to discuss the joint time table for SLTB and private buses in the country which all SLTB regional managers and I attended. I made a request to the Transport Minister and the Chairman NTC to take action against the district secretaries in the north and to call new bids and offer the permits to the highest bidders.

Although I was told that quick action would be taken, to date no action had been taken and the district secretaries are renewing permits according to their own whims and fancies,” Kiriwaththuduwa claimed.

According to the route permits the NTC has issued after following tender procedure, S. Palaniyandi of Vavuniya had paid Rs. 4.104 million to obtain the route permit for bus ND 8997 for 48 months while P. Pathmarajan of Vavuniya had paid Rs. 3.611 million for the permit for bus NC 4128. For bus ND 9141, Rs. 5.057 million had been paid by its owner K. Rasakulasingam of Vavuniya and T. Thillainadan also from Vavuniya had paid Rs. 4.968 million to obtain the permit for bus ND 8925.

“The above amounts have been paid to get their permits renewed monthly over a period of four years. All these buses have got their route permits from Vavuniya to Jaffna after submitting their bids when tenders were called unlike the Northern Province secretaries who issue permits for one year at a cost of only Rs. 3,500 for a year. Those who get the legal NTC permits have to pay over Rs.1 million for 12 months,” Kiriwaththuduwa said.

Meanwhile Kiriwaththuduwa accused the Mannar, Silavathurai, Mullaitivu, Jaffna and Killinochchi police divisions for not taking any action on the complaints lodged against certain private buses that ply without any route permits.

“We have lodged several complaints in this regard but none of the police divisions have taken any action to arrest those running these buses, violating government rules. We have all the complaint numbers and the complaints we have lodged to prove that the police are inefficient and work hand in glove with the transport commission officials in the North who allow some private buses to operate without route permits,” Kiriwaththuduwa alleged.

He further accused the Northern Transport Commission of not agreeing to operate a combined bus service between SLTB and private buses as the Transport Commission does not want the SLTB buses to operate during peak hours.

“They want the SLTB buses to operate only during the non-peak hours and on routes that do not make profits. Since I took over office as the Monitoring Manager SLTB Northern Province, I managed to get all seven depots in Point Pedro, Karainagar, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, Jaffna, Vavuniya and Mannar to become revenue generating SLTB depots in the country.”

“The five DSs cannot say that it is the SLTB’s duty to operate their buses mainly on routes that generate a poor income and also to allow only private buses to operate during peak hours.

Although the private buses in the north do not want to follow the joint time table, the SLTB buses follows it. Since we are plying during peak hours against the private bus operators requirement, the SLTB buses are now under attack but the police in the north do not take any action,” Kiriwaththuduwa said.

When contacted, District Secretary, Mannar said it is the transport commission in the respective district secretariats that issue the permits and not the DS. Before the Northern Provincial Council was established, power was delegated to the DS to issue and renew route permits but for the past two and a half years it is the transport commission officials are responsible for renewing permits.

When asked how he made such a claim when this newspaper was in possession of route permits renewed under the signature of the Chief Accountant of Mannar District Secretariat, the Divisional Secretary said he could not answer further questions as he is busy with some officials.

However when contacted, District Secretary Killinochchi said he was not aware of how this happened and promised he would check on it and call the newspaper back. The newspaper however never received that call.

Refuting allegations, Chairman NTC, M.A.B. Hemachandra said the Transport Commission does not know the procedure followed by the District Secretaries in the North for issuing the route permits.

“The DS cannot take the decision as to how much the bus owners have to pay for the annual permits. There is a pricing formula passed by the cabinet of ministers. When there is a pricing formula, the DS cannot renew these permits for a minimal amount which is a loss to the government,” Hemachandra said.

Hemachandra further said that it is completely against the law to issue permits from the Northern Province to any other province without calling for tenders. “If there are permits to prove that certain district secretaries have issued permits to other provinces from the north, it is illegal. Even one DS cannot issue a permit to another administrative district without calling for tenders. The NTC is planning to take over the DSs work in issuing permits within three months as the procedure they follow knowingly or unknowingly is illegal and is a loss to the government,” Hemachandra added.

When informed that the DS had said it was the NTC officers who handle the permit renewals and it is they who charge the bus owners, Hemachandra said that the NTC has not deployed any of their employees at the five district secretariats in the Northern Province but it is the DSs that have appointed people claiming that they are from the NTC. “None of our staff work in these five district secretariats. The district secretaries are lying to cover up their faults,” he added.

When asked how legal it is for the Northern Province District Secretariats to issue permits on NTC letterheads with the NTC logo, Hemachandra said that they have no authority to issue permits with the NTC logo.

“We have not given them any authority to use our logo when issuing permits. If they have done so we can take action against them,” Hemachandra said.

1 Comment for “District Secs Running Bus Permit Racket”

  1. Once we open Vavuniya Bus terminal at the end of April,NTC will establish its Office there to control the all Inter Provincial Bus service from Nothern province. Then we will call fresh Tenders for all routes operating at the Province.

    This was started long time ago and after I took over NTC in November 2015, it is too early to do changes without knowing all the facts about operation in Nothern Province.

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