Mon | Nov 30, 2020

Editorial | Were the police called to JUTC?

Published:Friday | June 7, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Given last week’s allegations by chief executive officer of the Government’s Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), Paul Abrahams, and his portfolio minister, Robert Montague, the constabulary’s counterterrorism squad should be deep into an investigation of conspiracy to commit mass murder, involving persons associated with the JUTC.

If that is not the case and neither official has made formal complaints to the police, they would have been tardy and irresponsible, failing in their duty of care to JUTC’s customers and, more important, to the preservation of human life. Or they may be accused of blatant cynicism – of stretching a yarn to gee up political sympathy.

The JUTC operates in the Kingston Metropolitan Area. Now in its 21st year, its establishment was intended to transform a ramshackle public transport system of many private owners into something decent. While many of the problems of the old arrangement remain, the JUTC has made a difference. It offers a relatively decent service, which, however, has come at a high price and not without, often, political controversy.

Political administrations are often accused of ­stuffing the company, which employs more than 2,000 persons, with their supporters and activists, many of whom are without the skills to do the jobs for which they are hired. This, critics claim, is a significant contributor to the more than J$3 billion – which is projected to rise to close to J$4 billion in 2019-2020 – the company loses annually.

The JUTC buses also face a high incidence of vandalism, including being frequently stoned in some communities. This, in the past, was usually attributed to arbitrary hooligans with no defined agendas. But Messrs Abrahams and Montague now claim something more sinister.

Some of the company’s buses have been the subject of a recent spate of fires. JUTC buses have had fires before. What is different now is the interpretation being put on these events by the company’s officials.

ACTS OF TERRORISM

Last week, the JUTC declared in a public statement that its investigation had unearthed “some startling bits of information” about the incidents, including that “substandard workmanship may have caused two of the three fires”. Notwithstanding the palpitating tone of the release, we might have attributed the discovery of a loose “fuel line beside a turbo and rag that was used to tie a hydraulic line among other displaced connections in the engine” to the incompetence of the mechanics who did the job.

Except, we were told by Mr Abrahams not only that the shoddy works could lead to spontaneous combustion, but that it all seemed to be part of “efforts to undermine the operations of the bus company, both internal and external”.

That claim was followed by Mr Montague’s assertion in Parliament that the fires “were not accidental”. “…We have found that there is a network within and outside the company trying to sabotage the entity and the jobs of hundreds of hard-working Jamaicans,” he said.

The calculations of this cabal, if the claims are true, might not have been the same as the classic terrorist, but fundamentally, the outcomes would be no different. Each day, the JUTC has more than 380 buses on the roads, some of which transport as many as 100 passengers. This year, the company will provide more than 53 million passenger rides. An incident on a single bus, potentially, could cost scores of lives. Multiple incidents are too dark to contemplate.

This, therefore, isn’t a matter that this newspaper takes lightly. It ought not to be a claim thrown about casually, hoping to embarrass the other side for political gain. If Messrs Abrahams and Montague have real information, it should be treated with the seriousness it deserves.