THE FIJI BUS OPERATORS ASSOCIATION (FBOA) is calling on the chairman of the Bus Fare Review Committee, Joel Abraham, to stop issuing statements that are misleading the public over the operators’ request for a fare review 10 years after the last one.
Abraham informed the media after a meeting between him and FBOA members at the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission last week that operators had yet to provide 2018 financial reports to carry out a cost analysis.
The vast majority of operators had already complied with a request for 2017 accounts and the FBOA was led to believe in its communication with the staff of the Commission that the Committee had sufficient information for the analysis, after they wrote to the FBOA confirming 42 operators had complied.
The operators were entitled to assume that the meeting called by Mr Abraham would be to discuss the fare analysis.
An email exchange between Abraham’s staff and the FBOA secretariat clearly outlines the agenda for a meeting they themselves had requested with the operators.
The staff member wrote that “industry pricing review, methodology and calculation variables” would be discussed, adding, “You may bring your accountant or analyst should you require clarity during the meeting.”
On the day of the meeting, Wednesday 6 February 2019, 48 operators turned up, only to be then be advised that not all operators had submitted their 2018 accounts for analysis so it had not been done.
The operators are happy to comply with requests for information to help the fare review process but it condemns the manner in which Abraham has dealt with the FBOA.
The majority of bus operators in Fiji turned up at that meeting expecting to move closer to a resolution on FBOA’s proposals, having already submitted financial statements. Instead, no discussion of the analyses took place.
The FBOA asks why a meeting was called simply for this information to be relayed when a simple email to the FBOA members would have been sufficient? The members would not have wasted their time showing up.
For Abraham to then make statements to the media about his supposed responsibility to the public is misleading.
Abraham is the Chairman of a committee that was to have provided a report in December 2017. We are now in February 2019 and we are still uncertain how much work is left for the committee to do.
The Bus Fare Review Committee was convened in October 2017 and after taxpayers’ money was spent on so-called consultations, it went silent for more than a year until later in 2018 after the bus operators started asking for a fare review again.
It was in December 2018 that Abraham reported to the media that not all financial information had been provided by the bus operators.
According to information from Abraham’s office before the requested meeting, at least 42 of the 52 operators had provided financial reports.
The meeting last Wednesday was understood by operators to have been one where the parameters of the fare analysis would be discussed, as outlined in the agenda from Abraham’s office, and a way forward agreed upon.
The majority of bus operators in Fiji have been in the industry for generations and understand the concerns the public may have.
Further, reference to a strike has come from Abraham in his statements to the media – not the operators. The FBOA only pointed out that the way things are going, some bus companies would not be able to continue operating. The FBOA made no mention of any strike and it was wrong for Abraham to refer to a strike as if the operators had threatened this.
We have carried the public at the same fares for 10 years and we will not take any actions except by due process.
We are confident the Government will ensure that a fair and just outcome is reached for everybody.
While the industry acknowledges it still has some issues to address, it cannot be denied that bus services in Fiji have improved significantly since the last fare increase a decade ago.
During this period the cost of operations has gone up – but fares have remained the same making it increasingly difficult for operators to maintain a sustainable business.
To paraphrase Abraham, all the bus operators are asking for is a fair deal so we are able to continue serving the travelling public who depend on us.