MILLIONS of dollars are still outstanding to school maxi taxi drivers, but an upgrade from a manual to a technological platform by September is scheduled to remove hiccups and delays in the process.
The system was announced on Thursday at a media conference at the Education Ministry in Port of Spain, after a meeting between the ministry, officials from the Association for Maxi Taxi School Transport Concessionaires of Trinidad and staff of the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC). The meeting was held to discuss the recurring problem of late payments in the school transport system.
Association for Maxi Taxi School Transport president Rodney Ramlogan said more than $3 million was currently outstanding to drivers, but after the meeting, "We are thankful and hopeful as of today a smooth transition will happen." He said the issue of the outdated system, which has created a lot of hiccups and late payments, has been ironed out. He added the drivers have been having challenges for the last two years but the process was moving closer and closer to "getting it right."
"And I do hope good sense prevail and from today and we get it to go correctly where everyone will be happy–the ministry, the (association) and the PTSC. And the major stakeholder here are the children which we transport to school on a daily basis."
The association represents 320 drivers who daily transport an average of 30,000 students from about 180 schools, both primary and secondary.
Ramlogan said since a previous media conference in January (where he announced about $12 million was outstanding) a lot of arrears had been paid for September to December, and ministry officials worked overtime to bring the arrears up to mark.
PTSC general manager Bashir Mohammed said three fortnights and a week are currently outstanding to drivers, and the corporation was working with the ministry to finalise those payments.
"We expect to make some payments by early next week. And if all goes well, probably by the end of next week we should be able to bring that up to current."
He explained Thursday's meeting was a follow-up to a meeting in January and a number of gaps and challenges had been identified. He said the current payment system is very manual and technology will be introduced for a more efficient system and one that can be better audited.
"Delays will be a thing of the past."
Ministry ICT manager Cory Belfon said the new system will automate the collection of claim forms and track each student who gets into a particular maxi. He added it will be a simple solution that is efficient and low-cost.
Chief education officer Harrilal Seecharan said a significant part of the delay was due to the inconsistency and errors in submitting forms and some of this had to do with timeliness at the school level, but the ministry will ensure once claims are received they are fast-tracked for early payment.
Education Minister Anthony Garcia said for the 12 weeks left in the term the ministry will ensure the service of the drivers is appreciated and they are compensated adequately. He gave a commitment that the ministry would process claims as quickly as possible.
The maxi taxi drivers provide yeoman service, he said, and help fulfil the ministry's mandate of access to education, so "When they are paid late it has to be a concern."