Saturday, December 26, 2009

Passengers query duty waiver on buses

People who commute to districts between Blantyre and Lilongwe have queried new Finance Minister, Ken Kandodo’s, duty waiver on buses that carry more than 45 passengers, saying recent trends had shown that bus owners were abusing the facility.
Kandodo indicated in his 2009/10 budget statement government wanted to extend the duty waiver on 45-seater, and above, buses in a bid to ease travel problems for people who commute on public transport.
Initially, the waiver was first introduced to woo more investors into the commuter transport sector, which was then characterized by the dominance of Shire Buslines- apart from minibuses that largely plied their trade within city boundaries. The initiative seems to have paid dividend following the entry of many large business players.
Government plans to extend the preferential initiative has, however, not gone down well with people who commute to inter-city districts of Balaka, Ntcheu, and Dedza. These districts lie along the way to Lilongwe and Blantyre.
Michael Khomba, a tomato farmer from Ntcheu who sells his farm produce at Blantyre Market, said in an interview Saturday government should not extend the duty waiver this time around for what he said was the apparent abuse of the facility by bus owners.
“These people (bus owners) have been abusing this facility by punishing people who commute to either Balaka, Ntcheu or Dedza. Apart from Axa Bus and Coach Service, National Bus Company, United Bus Company and Malasha, all the other carriers are charging across-the-board fees of between K700 and K800.
“This means if you are traveling to either Lilongwe or Blantyre, you pay this amount. It also means if you are commuting to Balaka, Ntcheu or Dedza, you have to pay the same amount. This is unfair,” said Khomba.
His sentiments were echoed by Lucy Malipa, a second hand clothes seller who commutes to markets between Balaka, Dedza and Ntcheu during market days. She said across-the-board application of traveling costs had translated into huge losses to her business.
“It is unfair that, where I pay between K350 and K400 when I travel through Axa, National Bus (company), United (Bus Company) and Malasha, I am forced to pay either K700 or K800. These are charges for Lilongwe and Blantyre commuters and not people who travel to inter-city districts,” said Malipa.
Malipa asked government to waive the waiver.
A visit to Wenela Bus Depot in Blantyre, Sunday, revealed that buses that carry 45 or more passengers were, in deed, applying across-the-board charges, much to the chagrin of passengers.
Those interviewed complained that the practice only favoured those traveling to either Lilongwe or Blantyre. They, however, blamed the country’s four top bus companies for creating huge gaps in the time-schedules of their buses.
“The only time you will find many buses is between 05: 30 am and 8:00 am in the morning; 11:30am to 01:00 pm in the afternoon; and between 05:00pm and 06:00 pm in the evening. There is a huge gap in between these peak schedule times, an anomaly these other 45-seater buses are trying to exploit,” said Smart Kambanje, a vendor at Wenela.
However, Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) Executive Director, John Kapito, has shifted the blame back to passengers.
Kapito said in a separate interview passengers were to blame for opting to travel in buses that applied unfair practices.
“Other than describing the practice as unfair and exploitative, we must look at the other side of the coin. Passengers, who are in this case consumers, have money to spend on transport; and they spend it on buses that are charging exorbitant prices. It is their choice because there are many buses who are charging reasonably,” said Kapito.
He also backed the bus owners, saying they were taking advantage of free trade advocacy to make the most for their pockets.
“It is a question of practicing free trade on their part. As for the passengers, they have a choice because there are many buses around. They can choose to boycott such buses if they want, but they are not,” said Kapito.
There were reports earlier this year government would do away with the duty waiver on buses during the 2009/10 fiscal year, but Kandodo indicates in his budget statement government still wanted more investments and competition in the commuter transport sector.

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