KATHMANDU, Sept 26: Transport entrepreneur committees surrendered to the government back in May after their bank accounts were frozen and some of their senior executives were threatened with probes into money laundering activities. They were also put on notice that the legal existence of the committees would end effective from Mid-July.
These measures marked the official end of syndicates in the transport sector and there was wide public praise for the newly elected government with its two third majority.
But all these measures taken by the government four months ago are no longer a reality. The life of the transport committees got prolonged to mid-December without any valid grounds, under the direction of Transport Minister Ragubir Mahaseth.
Only a few transport operators have thereafter turned their business operations into a company modality. This would have changed the sector into a formal one and brought it into the tax net. Labor rights would also have been assured. An end to the rotation of bus operations and to the barring of open competition were the expected outcomes as well as better services for the passengers.
A committee headed by Joint secretary Keshav Sharma, which was assigned to advise the government on how to manage the sector , has yet to prepare its report. Rather, it has only been able to suggest further prolonging the transport committees, which have a reputation of using money collected from transport operators to buy the politicians.
Some pressing problems have meanwhile surfaced . Those injured in road accidents and require medical treatment beyond the insurance coverage of Rs 500,000 did not get the additional money which transport entrepreneurs had managed in the past. Initial discussions on extending insurance coverage to Rs 1 million or making it open-ended were set aside.
With the approach of the Dashain festival, the government changed its stance and decided to unfreeze the bank funds on the ground that the committees could not otherwise operate their offices. The chief district officers are now scanning their bills and issuing orders to banks to release the money . Nepal Rastra Bank has received the first lot of such checks from Kaski .
The law says that the assets of organizations already declared void come into government ownership, but the government has decided to pay the committees' bills.
The transport committee executives, who were rounded up from protest demonstrations back in April, on Friday flouted the government's decision to open ticket bookings for Dashain. They are demanding fare hikes and also the unfreezing of their bank accounts. Two days later, the government agreed to hike fares by 10 percent, citing increased fuel prices.
Consumer activists say the decision is ill-timed as the big festival is just around the corner.
The government has now signed an agreement, not with individual entrepreneurs or groups but with the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs, an umbrella organization of over 300 committees.
The government's moves and steps since May show that it is working in favor of those still operating in syndicate fashion, said Bishnu Timilsina, a consumer interest activist. Lawmakers in parliament's Development and Technology Committee on Tuesday also accused the government doing nothing to tame the transportation sector . The committee has invited Minister Mahaseth, Secretary of the Ministry Madhusudan Adhikari and Director General of the Department of Transport Management Labanya Dhakal to discuss the matter on Wednesday.
However, an official at the ministry, seeking anonymity, claimed that the minister was not interested in such matters .
Director General Dhakal for his part rejected the accusation of reviving the syndicates. “The end of syndicates means no more monopoly of the companies and committees, and any interested entrepreneur can now register their vehicles and get route permits, with no let or hindrance from existing bus operators,” added Dhakal. He also said they are doing the homework on bringing in new insurance schemes in coordination with the insurance sector.