BBA decries political interference in dispute resolution

After more than two weeks of public wrangling, the Western Bus Zone returned to normal operations yesterday, Wednesday.

It took some cajoling from officials of the Department of Transport to get the owners of Guerra’s Bus Line to agree to give up one of their runs to accommodate the Belize Bus Owners’ Cooperative (BBOC), who had already gotten back five runs from Westline Bus Company Limited, owned by Sergio Chuc of San Ignacio. It was revealed for the first time today, Thursday, that Chuc, said to be well-connected to the UDP, was (and according to him, still is) a registered member of the BBOC before forming Westline.

According to documentation we have received, Westline Bus Company Limited was incorporated as a limited liability company with the Companies and Corporate Affairs Registry on March 16, 2011, and its memorandum of association lists the company’s shareholders as Sergio and Diane Caroline Chuc, both of Benque Viejo Road in San Ignacio.

The president of the Belizean Bus Association (BBA), Thomas Shaw, has said that, following more than six hours of negotiation on Tuesday between Transport officials and Jose Victor Guerra, the company’s manager, Guerra’s Bus Line reversed its previous public position that it would not give up its runs, allowing BBOC to resume operations in the West with nine runs: 5 runs from Westline, three from non-BBA member D & E Line of Benque Viejo, and one from Guerra. (For more, see story elsewhere in this issue.)

Shaw told Amandala today that while he is sympathetic to Guerra’s situation, he, Shaw, had been fighting on Guerra’s behalf, as he is a BBA member, but that he could not keep up that fight if he was not backed by what his members want.

Attention now turns to the yet-to-be organized Northern Zone, where operators continue to negotiate the schedule. A deadline of June 10 has been set and in the meantime, the BBA is calling on its members — including the BBOC (who has three permanent runs and three temporary runs) — to hold their runs in the area, until the situation is resolved.

Shaw and BBA consultant Patrick Menzies, who appeared on today’s Wake Up Belize Morning Vibes (WUB) on KREM Radio, made it clear that the politicians ought not to be involved in the negotiations, as their interference has led to divisions within the Association. A meeting has been called for next Tuesday to iron out those differences.

Chuc called KREM this morning to give his side of the story, accusing Shaw and Menzies of trying to “demonize” him, and insisting that BBOC had applied for the Northern Zone in full and that was the only reason that he joined the fray. He maintained that he is no newcomer, having worked in the industry for 8 years, and stated that he, too, has been employing people both at Westline and in his other businesses.

Chuc denied that his connection to the UDP had anything to do with his getting the runs, stating that he was not the first “go-to” person when the runs vacated by National Transport became void, and even called out the Government for going “soft” on BBOC by granting them runs in the North and West, contrary to the policy of the Department of Transport that a company would only be able to run in one zone (though it is the expressed opinion of Prime Minister Dean Barrow, as expressed in an answer to a question from Amandala at the May 27 press conference, that that policy may be deviated from with good and sufficient reason.)

Chuc says he is not operating with BBOC by virtue of being granted the Westline runs, but has not resigned from the cooperative as yet.

Asked by Sharon Marin, WUB host, whether as a member he felt that he had stabbed his BBOC brethren in the back by taking their runs, Chuc responded, “No, no, no, no, no. I don’t have a guilty conscience on that…,” going on to charge the executive of the BBOC, which he says has only 21 members, with fighting among themselves for the best runs. He related an instance in which one of his drivers was suspended for seven days by BBOC chairman Claude Frazer because he was late getting back to Belize City; he had had a problem with the starter in his vehicle which he was fixing in Benque Viejo, and Frazer had initially said it would be a two-day suspension.

“I think what the Ministry of Transport wants to do is, if there is a bigger operator that can take the whole slot, there will not be peak runs, or slow runs, because it is one company…,” Chuc said, arguing that BBOC members avoided the slower runs because they could not make money. He charged that, for instance, on Wednesday, an express run at 10:00 a.m. and a regular run at 10:30 a.m. were not taken by BBOC.

Shaw responded, “…if the Department of Transport would leave the operators to run their business, you know, because it is the operators who has the expenses. The politicians, they sit behind the table, they don’t know what you actually go through physically, or the ground work. More than likely, nobody goes into a business to lose money. And if you are going to issue a permit, that run should be viable. If you are going to give me a run that I’m going to make ten dollars, what you are doing to me, more than likely, is sending me to the poor house…”

He added that Westline faces the same dilemma as National Transport did – accounting to the banks for money borrowed to facilitate managing the bus company, without a profit to show them.

An uneasy peace has therefore settled over the transport industry, but the last has not been heard of this dispute.