Lambert Brown, Contributor
There is a maxim which says, 'justice delayed is justice denied'. The recent sudden death of Ezroy Millwood of the National Transport Cooperative Society (NTCS) brings forcefully to mind the capacity of our State and governments to deny justice to those from humble beginnings.
Imagine that the Government breached a contract with you by failing to do something it agreed to do. Imagine that your business suffered because of the Government's failure. Imagine you decided to demand that the Government play by the rules and you take the matter to court to seek justice.
Imagine that you were 54 years old. Would you expect that when you reached age 70, such a case against the Government would still not be concluded? Well, that is what happened to Ezroy Millwood and scores of other small transport operators who bonded together to form and operate the NTCS.
Make no bones about it, the service offered by the minibus system was not of the best quality. It introduced the 'lick-shot' approach to driving, where recklessness, indiscipline and cut-throat competition characterised our public-transport system. It also introduced the disorder of 'one stop, driver', which made bus stops redundant and minibus drivers, to the annoyance of other road users, would stop wherever was convenient and often without the required indication.
The behaviour of bus crews left much to be desired, and the slackness perpetrated against our young female students had to be arrested. Changes had to come to save our society, particularly in the Corporate Area, from the chaos of what some described as our ramshackle transportation system.
The Jamaica Urban Transit Company, with financial subsidy by the State, would bring some degree of comfort and order to the system. Even if it turned out to be a slower means of moving commuters from destination to destination, many argue that with significantly fewer minibuses on the road, our transportation system is much safer today.
minibus system's positive roles
Despite the obvious negatives mentioned above, the minibus system did play positive roles in our society. It filled a gap after the Government abandoned the public transportation system in the 1980s, and it created jobs for many persons. Most important, it made many Jamaicans part of the ownership classes of our country. It made them business people, part of the private sector, and spurred investment.
Some persons moved from owning one bus to becoming multiple bus owners. Drivers and conductors learnt the virtue of saving and were able to step up in life by owning a minibus. It is by growing businesses and boosting the number of people owning businesses that a country ensures its growth and stability. It is by inculcating in our people the habit of moving from merely owning stalls to owning malls that the spirit of entrepreneurship will take root.
Today, the concept of maxi taxis in Trinidad and the dollar vans in places like New York owed their origin to the ingenuity of people like Ezroy Millwood and the minibus system so imperfectly fashioned in Kingston, Jamaica.
It is, therefore, against this background that these 16 years of legal battle by the NTCS and Millwood in search of justice must be seen. Millwood, a returning resident from England, competed, some say illegally, with the state-owned bus company.
The picture of a patch-bottomed-pants Millwood in Half-Way Tree in the early 1980s jostling for a piece of the transport pie and eventually being described in 2012 as a 'transport tycoon' (Sunday Gleaner, December 2, 2012) represents the struggle of our masses for recognition and the right to be part of the ownership society. It represents the indomitable spirit of our people to succeed.
This is why I am profoundly disappointed that having been through the justice system - from the Supreme Court to arbitration, back to the Supreme Court, then to the Court of Appeal, onward to the Privy Council, returning to the Court of Appeal, our Government still wants to return to the Privy Council with its case against the NTCS.
In October 2011, a national newspaper quoted Ezroy Millwood as follows: "Our case has been in the court for 15 years. The pain, the strain, the cost, and the struggle -only Jesus knows. Anybody who lives in a country where the Government itself takes over 15 years to give you justice, then there is no justice in the country. Fifteen years to process a case - a case where Government breached the contract, I have a problem with that." Millwood's lamentation could apply to any small-business person in Jamaica. It is a travesty of justice.
A seemingly unending journey broke the spirit of an entrepreneur from among the masses. It sapped the energy of a Jamaican small-business man. It suffocated the ambition of one who returned to contribute to his beloved country by doing it his way.
Rest in peace, Ezroy Millwood. To you and numerous others, the granting of fare increases was denied while foreign-owned utility companies with poor performance records and big profits had rate increases guaranteed. Over the years, large tax waivers have been granted to some favoured businesses, but the decision of our courts in favour of those from the masses is being fought tooth and nail.
Correct the Denial of justice
The denial of justice must be corrected. The hundreds of thousands of small businesses in Jamaica deserve the focused attention of the Government. They, like those who were in the transportation sector, are creators of jobs and contributors to growth and development. These small businesses, while being part of the formal private sector, could be called the 'people's sector'. It is on their ability to grow their businesses that our sustainable development should be built.
The treatment of the NTCS is certainly not a signal reflecting sincere commitment to small businesses. It is not beyond the powers that be to arrive at an amicable settlement with the NTCS - ending the delay and allowing for justice not only to be done but manifestly and undoubtedly, to appear to be done. People power demands no less.
Lambert Brown is a government senator and president of the University and Allied Workers Union. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and Labpoyh@yahoo.com.