Transport fares released by the Ministry of Transport on (MOT) January 15 seem to have become null and void due to the refusal of mainly bus drivers to abide by the order. Now information emerging is that a readjustment may be in sight.
A list of transport fares found with some officials of the Federation of Road Transport Union (FRTUL) last Friday, showed that there was an increase in transport fares for various locations, contrary to previous fares MOT announced as a result of the drop in the prices of petroleum products.
The “new fare” not yet released to the public came out when a FRTUL field officer, who refused to give his name to the Daily Observer, sided with a bus driver to charge commuters LD$25.00 from Broad Street to Duala above the LD$20.00 set earlier by the MOT.
But as a protest erupted and the Liberian National Police (LNP) became involved, the so-called new transport fare list shown by the FRTUL official revealed the name “Abu Kamara” with the title, “Assistant Minister for Road and Rail Transport, Ministry of Transport.”
When the LNP officers at Metro 2 saw the list, the signatures of the Minister of Transport and the Director of Public Affairs were not seen compared to the January 15 list, and Abu Kamara’s signature did not appear on it.
The police, in their efforts to ascertain the facts, went to the Transport Ministry and brought the first adjusted list with no indication that there had been any changes. This led to the two FRTUL officers and the bus driver being charged with fraud and forgery and their subsequent detention pending a court trial.
Police contended that they as law enforcement officers had not been served copies of the so-called new fares as had been done on previous occasions.
Moreover, the police said any such adjustments should be published in the newspapers and announced over the radio to inform the public as had been done in the past.
“Furthermore, the new list was only with the FRTUL and bus drivers, and not taxi drivers who are also affected by the adjusted fares,” a female police officer said.
One of the detained FRTUL officers called someone from the Transport Ministry to convince the police that the Ministry was aware of the new fares, but the officer refused on grounds that the list did not have approval of the Minister and was not published as the first one had been.
The LNP officer, without following the suggestion of the person he communicated with, ordered the arrest and detention of the men, stating that whichever authority was behind the new fares could call the police boss to complain against him (LNP officer) for enforcing the law.
If the FRTUL officers and driver of the bus bearing the plate TB 923 will actually be prosecuted, the driver will be paying the amount of US$200.00 for the first offense, if found guilty.
The court or any relevant authority will decide what becomes of the FRTUL agents and the Assistant Minister whose name is on the dubious fare list.
Efforts made to get the names of the detainees proved futile as one of the officers, Ahmed Mohammed Kenneth, ordered the Daily Observer barred from the investigation on the grounds that LNP actions are forbidden from reaching the media except through the press and public affairs section of the LNP.
While our reporter was still at the scene of the investigation, information emerged that field agents of the FRTUL habitually arrange with drivers to charge commuters higher than the approved fares with the intent of sharing the money.
Since the announcement of the new transport fares for Monrovia and its surroundings, bus drivers have remained on strike and sometimes appear at picking up points late in the evening when passengers are anxiously waiting to go home.
In such cases, the passengers who always have to fight for cars, are constrained to pay any amount the drivers demand, while FRTUL agents are there collecting money from drivers in the name of the union.
FRTUL is one of four union groups in the country with many agents assigned to various parking points in Monrovia and across the country.
From past interviews with some of its officials, FRTUL had planned to build terminals for travelers in strategic areas in the country and also provide vehicles to take passengers to their destinations in case of breakdowns on the highway.
It also tries to help drivers who encounter problems with vehicles or authorities on the highways.
However, these social responsibilities have over the years remained unfulfilled as drivers continue to complain about agents taking money from them without providing them with any benefits.
Furthermore, no terminal has been built anywhere in Liberia by FRTUL or any other union.
Efforts to interview authorities of the MOT regarding the implementation of new fares have proven unsuccessful.