Some 70 public transport drivers, angered by being blocked from providing service at the main wharf in Port Vila on cruise ship days, met at the Independence Park grand stand on Thursday morning to find ways to resolve what to them is an “unfair and an illegal” decision.

They are angry that such action is impacting on their livelihood especially, as many of them are paying loans and they have children and they must pay schools fees. They demand that the restriction be lifted and allow all buses and taxis to provide service at the wharf on cruise ship days.

The transport drivers, representing both buses and taxis, are particularly incensed by a letter to their President of the Shefa Port Vila Land Transport Association, Donald Massing, from the Minister for Tourism, Trade, Industry, Commerce and ni-Vanuatu Business (MTTICNB), Joe Natuman, ordering Mr. Massing "not to interfere with traffic management on cruise ship days on the Port Vila Tourism Wharf”.

The letter stated that responsibility for the management of traffic on cruise ship days on the Port Vila Tourism Wharf was delegated in 2016 by the MTTICNB) to the following: Port Vila Cruise Tourism Committee, Department of Ports and Harbors, Police and Port Vila Cruise Transport Association.

At the heart of the whole issue is the Port Vila Cruise Transport Association (PVCTA), whose President is Elton Worwor. The PVCTA was established in 2016 and has been registered with the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission as a charitable organization. And with the blessing of the government under the MTTICNB, has been insisting that its members, about 150 in all comprising buses and taxis, are the only ones allowed to operate at the Port Vila Tourism Wharf (PVTW). Other buses and taxis from over 1000 buses and taxis who are not members allowed.

The members of PVCTA pay a fee of Vt10,000 and they have a uniform. The association collects Vt200 from members on the side of the road under the banyan tree before they are allowed to proceed to the access to the wharf to pick up tourists on cruise ship days.

On September 7, 2017, the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Land Transport Authority based under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Reginald Tabi Gerian wrote to Mr. Worwor, the President of the PVCTA pointing out that the collection of Vt200 was illegal and asked that it be ceased. He also pointed that there was no legal provision in the Public Land Transport Act that prevented members from other associations to be at the wharf and provide the same service as members of his association.

In his response to PLTA CEO Tabi Gerian on September 14, Mr. Worwor reasoned that the PVCTA was a legally registered organization with a constitution and it had the right to collect monies as it so decided and hence its collection of the Vt200 was legal.

In a letter to Lawyer Less John Napuati dated October 12, 2017 Port Vila Efate Land Transport Association President, Donald Massing expressed concern over the issues concerned with providing services at the wharf on cruise ship days with the involvement of the PVCTA and its activities and insisting that nonmembers of the association cannot be allowed at the wharf. He called for the PVCTA to cease its “illegal” activities.

On December 27, 2017, the CEO of the Public Land Transport Authority wrote another letter to the President of the Port Vila Cruise Transport Association, Elton Worwor, advising that due to the ongoing land transport dispute at the wharf, the PLTA Board has delegated the transport management and control to Shefa/Port Vila Public Land Transport Association, whose President is Donald Massing, effective from January 1, 2018. It will be the body legally constituted to manage and control operation of transport operators at the wharf on cruise ship days. It also advised Mr. Worwor that the PLTA Board considered the mandatory charging and collection of Vt200 as a day access fee illegal and allowing only members to service the wharf on cruise ship days “pure discriminatory.”

The President of SPVLTA also considers the operation of the Port Vila Cruise Transport Association in such a way “illegal” and says he and his association will seek legal action for their members’ democratic right to operate at the wharf on cruise ship days.

He argues that all bus and taxi drivers pay the business license, permits and insurance for their vehicles and why should they pay additional fees to operate join an association to at a Government facility.

“It would be different if it is a private facility such as the Warwick Le Lagon Resort, for instance or the Airport, but this is a Government or public facility and every transport should have the right to provide service to and from the wharf without having to join a particular association and pay additional fees,” he added.

The meeting of the angry transport drivers attracted the police who arrived and told meeting that the transport drivers had the legal right to go anywhere they wanted to provide the service, and the police were only there to maintain the law, peace and good order. They encouraged the President and his members to seek a common solution to the issue without resorting to disruptive behavior.

A team from the Ministry of Tourism including the Acting Director General, George Borugu, also arrived and explained how the Port Vila Cruise Transport Association came to be with the Council of Ministers decision in 2016 to find ways to stop the increase in fighting at the wharf on cruise ship days. It appointed the Minister for Tourism, the Minister of Transport and Public Utilities and the Minister of Internal Affairs into a Tourism Board that formed a Port Vila Tourism Committee.

“Formation of the Port Vila Cruise Transport Association and starting with the small number of members to service the wharf on cruise ship days would grow to a larger group in future,” he explained but his voice was drowned out by angry transport drivers who obviously didn’t like the idea.

The angry transport drivers wanted to be allowed to service the wharf today when a large cruise ship is in port.

Eventually it was agreed that a meeting would be held by their President with the police and representatives of the Ministry of Tourism at 3pm yesterday to resolve the issue amicably and allow all transport drivers the right to be at the wharf today and not only PVCTA members.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: jonas@dailypost.vu. Cell # 678 5460922

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