It's already a financial disaster for the Development Finance Corporation and at least one local bank, and the big question now is whether the shutting down of the Novelo's bus company receivership will also become a disaster for the commuting public. Today I looked for some answers.
Janelle Chanona, Reporting
As schools across the country reopened this morning, transport officials were on high alert as administrators sought to ensure commuters got to their final destinations on time.
General Cedric Borland, Chairman, Transport Board
”The department had their traffic officers out this morning to monitor the bus movements, and also the commuters that are moving and the information we have received is that it went fairly well. In certain areas there were minor build up of commuters, but we were able to deal with it adequately.”
Since the receivership managing the Novelo’s bus line closed its operations two weeks ago, Chairman of the Transport Board Cedric Borland and other government executives have been trying to control the chaos in the bus industry. This afternoon Borland maintained that while authorities negotiate a permanent resolution, short-term arrangements with other providers are keeping things rolling.
Gen. Cedric Borland
”Up in the north, there were Tillett’s and Chell’s and Gilharry and a few others that had runs already and they were only given additional permits, temporary permits to do that run. In the south, we had James Bus Line that is running from P.G. and Dangriga and they were given some additional permits as well to run from Dangriga. In the west, it was mostly dominated at the time by the receivership and since they stopped their runs, we had the National Transport that were running initially four runs out of Benque and they were given an increase to meet the commuters’ need in the west. So as it is we have National Transport doing most of the runs from Benque to Belize City and return and we do have Guerra and Shaw providing additional runs.”
Borland declined to offer details of what’s on the table, but he insists that within the next two weeks, there will be a change for the better.
Gen. Cedric Borland
”We pretty much have a framework. We are now going to develop on that, we don’t want really to create a situation of absolute change. We are going to use what exists, we are going to take the best of what exists and we are going to improve on it. We actually want to end up with a public transportation system at an acceptable and international level where we are able to have the proper terminals, where we are able to have scheduling that anybody can go there at a particular time and know the bus is going to leave. We want to have a safe and reliable transport system.”
Froylan Gilharry, Owner, Venus Bus Line
”Really bad...it make me feel that we have gone thirty years behind again when you see people standing up on the street sides, outside in the drizzle, in the rain, sun and there’s no facilities for them.”
Froylan Gilharry has been operating buses in the Belize for more than forty years. Today, the veteran suggests more consultations with industry players.
”What I recommend is that this government sit and really talk with us bus owners, people who have done in the past and bring the transport up to date what it was in 2002. Because with the ideas of government, allowing to monopolise in 2000, it never worked out, it only got worse. Nor the Novelo’s, nor the receivership, have ever done a good transportation system for the people in the north.”
“Putting in a lot of people into the bus business, people running up and down like crazy, nobody will be making money and I can only see that in the end, people will be hurt. Many years ago, people lost property, houses, and even in their lives in some cases on account of this hustling with a lot of buses on the road.”
Phillip Brackett, Transport Commissioner
”It is challenging for commuters, the fact that they don’t have a terminal, in some areas they are not used to a terminal, like in Orange Walk area, in Belmopan, fortunately the terminal there has a little gift shop where people can go in and shelter from the elements. But basically as far as moving passengers, there is no problem, really.”
According to Commissioner of Transport Phillip Bracket, while a lack in infrastructure is a problem, continuous checks by the department are keeping glitches to a minimum. But tonight temporary providers are being warned that they are operating on borrowed time.
”To let these operators understand that they are not to go into any big investment in buses because this situation is very temporary and so we want to ask them please don’t try to...some of them are excited with the little money that they, well the profits that they are making now. So we want to tell them, please don’t incur any additional expenses because pretty soon we’ll get back to normal.”
General Cedric Borland
”These are not permanent permits that any provider out there can expect to maintain, it’s just really to fill the crisis that had developed. Whenever this situation is resolved, we are hopeful that it will be in such—it will develop to an extent where it can be maintained and developed.”
As for the assets of the Novelo's bus company, this afternoon, chairman Arsenio Burgos informed News Five that as early as this week notices will appear in local papers advertising the sale, by auction, of bus terminals in Belize City, Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Corozal, and Belmopan. According to Burgos, in the coming months other properties mortgaged to the D.F.C. by the Novelo family will also be auctioned off. What will be done with the buses is slightly more complicated as that collateral was split between the D.F.C. and the Atlantic Bank and our understanding is that an attempt will be made to sell the entire fleet to whatever entity that may come forward to purchase the monopoly company. The Novelo family has an outstanding debt to D.F.C. of forty million dollars: roughly thirty million in principal and another ten in accrued interest. We are told that Belmopan is hoping to get back at least fifteen to twenty million dollars of taxpayers money from the sale of assets. The Novelo family declined an on-camera interview with News Five today but via telephone, spokespersons informed us that the Novelo brothers are not only in the process of working out a solution to their debt woes with the D.F.C. and Atlantic Bank but are also working on a formal proposal to buy back into the industry as part of a long term resolution to the current crisis.