ri Lanka has just started recovering from one the worst catastrophes of this century, the recent devastating deluge, that witnessed many areas including Colombo and the suburbs submerging under gushing flood waters, with some hilly areas burying under huge masses of soil rolling down the hilltops occurring at a time when people are already besieged and plagued by a whole gamut of woes and issues. The calamity no doubt has added more and more miseries worsening the predicament of many hapless ones who are finding it difficult to make ends meet. The Good Governance Government elected by the majority with sky high hopes is already facing strong headwinds in its ongoing endeavour to negotiate complex, multifaceted and multifarious problems with socio, cultural and political undertones, faced by Sri Lanka’s multi racial, multi religious and multi lingual society. Moreover, the Government is facing growing criticism by the day, with the increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) impacting the cost of a number of goods and services bringing about an adverse cascading effect on the purse of the ultimate consumer, the majority of whom are from poor and low income segments.
In the midst of efforts to rise from the ashes in the aftermath of the massive destruction to property as well as precious lives and loss of all what many people possessed, it is seriously disconcerting to learn the motive of the abhorrent and outrageous statement made by the Chairman of the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association, that commuters would have to pay extra starting from July, on account of additional costs incurred resulting from fuel wastage due to traffic jams and congestion on the roads today. This no doubt comes as very bad news for the people who are already saddled with endless economic woes and are struggling to keep their home fires burning.
People should blame no one but successive Governments for permitting businesses such as the LPBOA to assume domineering status that has enabled them to dictate terms, victimize and hold millions of commuters to ransom. Consequently average citizens who are unable to afford his or her own mode of transport is sadly at the mercy of some individuals with arrogant, indifferent and callous attitudes and having the guts to shamelessly demand their pound of flesh, irrespective of the predicament scores of the affected people will be forced to go through, as a result of their intransigent posture.
"People should blame no one but successive Governments for permitting businesses such as the LPBOA to assume domineering status that has enabled them to dictate terms, victimize and hold millions of commuters to ransom"
While dominance of the private bus service has increased over the years, the contribution from the SLTB, the so-called state transportation arm has seen a miserable decline. Today’s status quo of the SLTB leaves much to be desired and speaks volumes about the sad story of how successive Governments have failed to resurrect, run and sustain this institution, that was set up to provide one of the most important public services in this country enjoying a status of dominance and virtual monopoly.
Time no doubt is already ripe for those calling the shots to map out a clever strategy to elevate the SLTB to its erstwhile status of glory for the benefit and the welfare of plebeians.
The Government should ask the LPBOA whether it has passed on to people commensurate reciprocal benefits when fuel prices were slashed by it in an unprecedented manner, purely for the purpose of bringing down the cost of living. The LPBOA being a commercial business enterprise would surely have been raking in surpluses even before the reduction of fuel prices and in the aftermath of the said welcome development, must have emerged as a lucrative beneficiary of such unprecedented price slashing, as its margins would have grown much fatter, thanks to the step taken by the Good Governance Government to fulfil one of its main election promises made.
Since the Government has the full responsibility to ensure public well-being it is incumbent on the authorities to tackle this issue with a strategic approach. Whilst it is paramount for the state apparatus to engage in serious deliberations and discussions with the LPBOA to negotiate a suitable compromise with a view to minimizing the impact on the general public, it is imperative that a well thought out long-term strategic plan is put into action in an accelerated fashion to revive, revamp and revitalize the public sector transport arm of the state to ensure that the Government will have sufficient means and resources to face any exigency or eventuality should the private sector attempts to browbeat the state apparatus in to submission holding the poor and innocent to ransom.
One of the steps that could be taken on a priority basis to revamp public transport arm of the state would be to introduce performance-driven rewards culture in the management of state transport sector, whereby employee remuneration would be linked to the quality of performance with specific criteria being defined to measure relevant Key Performance Indicators. Moreover, bus depots could be converted to profit centres to be run as distinct financial entities with accountability for their own performance. In order to monitor progress and keep track of performance, measures could be taken to carry out periodical financial and operational reviews to identify areas where performance is below par or deviating from established standards to take remedial measures on a timely basis to bring about procedural and operational improvements where necessary in a timely fashion.
Regular, periodical as well as surprise financial and operational audits could be carried out using suitably qualified and technically competent professionals who are able to critically examine and thoroughly evaluate efficiency, effectiveness and efficacy of systems, procedures and checks and balances established and how best they are being complied with by drawing attention to instances of noncompliance and departure from norms to rectify anomalies based on strict financial criteria and yardsticks. Productivity of manpower could also be undertaken as part of this exercise to ensure that people deliver as expected of them.
"All these are aimed at developing a quality, efficient, cost effective and courteous public transport system for the benefit of the people, so that their needs and plight would no longer become expedient tools in the hands of unscrupulous elements eyeing a fast buck come what may"
While the introduction of Public Private Partnership based on a funding structure where treasury retains a controlling stake could be looked at to instill the modern culture of financial discipline and transparency, measures could also be taken to develop human capital through human resources development plans to upgrade the quality and productivity of manpower, an area where the current SLTB has been sadly and badly lacking and performing way below par. Self-funded performance-driven incentive schemes offering financial as well as non-financial rewards, benefits and perks could be established to incentivize manpower and inculcate competitive mindsets to ensure that state transport arm too could be run efficiently exercising prudent financial guidelines with a people-friendly outlook. Furthermore human development and training programmes could be designed to instill etiquette, socially acceptable mannerisms and decorum in staff deployed in public transport services to provide people a comfortable means of transport as well as the convenience and experience of a human-friendly service.
All these are aimed at developing a quality, efficient, cost effective and courteous public transport system for the benefit of the people, so that their needs and plight would no longer become expedient tools in the hands of unscrupulous elements eyeing a fast buck come what may.
There is no quick fix to this problem. The ambitious and flagship project the of the Government the Mega Polis Development Project aims at improving the quality of infrastructure as well the standards of modern living and amenities whilst effecting huge improvements and efficiency in public transport, which in turn would benefit people at large in myriad ways. If the Government could plan to revamp the SLTB too at the same time and bring it on par with international standards, it would go a long way in improving the productivity of local manpower whilst bringing about significant cost savings in transport and travelling.
Not only that, it would offer people an effective alternative to the discourteous, impolite and rude experience they are nowadays compelled to suffer at the hands of many a rough, unruly and unrefined individual employed in the private bus service to man buses, which has unfortunately become a fait accompli. It is a menace that people are compelled to endure due to the lack of a better alternative.
Hence, no doubt the Government is primarily responsible to give people a better deal, as they surely deserve it, having taken great pains to install the much hyped up Yahapalanaya with sky high hopes for betterment, by rallying and doing against all odds, what many people as well as politicos thought impossible and non-doable, disregarding the long held mistaken notion of “all-time invincibility”.