By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday urged the Government to “reconsider” its ban on wrecked vehicle imports and 10-year auto age limit, warning it would cause job losses and “interrupt the way of life for thousands”.
Branville McCartney criticised the Government’s failure to consult with the auto repair industry, and give it advance notice, of the policy changes it planned to introduce with the 2015-2016 Budget.
He argued that the “blanket ban” on wrecked vehicle imports, which is due to take effect from September 1, 2015, was not necessary because various “checks and balances” could be implemented to prevent their use in facilitating auto thefts in the Bahamas.
Mr McCartney then warned that the 10-year age limit on imported vehicles threatened to cause more hardship for low income Bahamians, because it may put auto ownership beyond their means.
He suggested this would “interrupt the way of life for thousands and thousands of Bahamians” because, due to an inadequate New Providence public transport system, auto ownership was “a necessity, not a luxury”.
The DNA leader said: “This was obviously done without consultation with people in the industry. It will very significantly affect a number of young men - mechanics, body repairers and tow truck drivers.
“The Government failed, prior to making this pronouncement in the House of Assembly, to discuss it with persons that are most affected and, by extension, the wider community.
“It’s the average Bahamian who cannot afford to go to the bank to borrow money for a $20,000 vehicle. That [10-year age limit] will interrupt the way of life for thousands and thousands of Bahamians. It goes much further than the mechanics,” he added.
“A vehicle is a necessity, not a luxury, bearing in mind the lack of public transportation or efficient public transportation.”
Mr McCartney yesterday indicated that he and the DNA intend to champion the auto body repair industry’s cause, with a press conference planned for this Friday to highlight the sector’s plight in the face of the Government’s policy reforms.
Pledging to “fight for a just and fair outcome”, and to preserve Bahamian jobs, the DNA leader told Tribune Business: “What we’re trying to do is get the Government to sit down with these person and, if they do make this policy, do it in a way that does not cause people to lose their jobs, and is fair and reasonable in all circumstances.
“That’s what we’re fighting for; just to be fair and right in all circumstances.”
The Government’s move to ban wrecked vehicle imports has been driven by the role they play in facilitating auto vehicle thefts.
Auto thieves swap Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) from these imported wrecks on to autos stolen in the Bahamas, effectively disguising the latter’s identity and enabling them to get it licensed/inspected by the Road Traffic Department.
The ban is also intended to protect Bahamian consumers from purchasing wrecked vehicle imports that are subsequently restored, and passed off as new. This potentially jeopardises the safety of buyers and others on the roads.
But the ‘blanket’ approach is threatening to catch legitimate body repair and mechanic shops in the dragnet, threatening the jobs and livelihoods of their staff.
The Government has also cited health and environmental benefits from such a ban, and the 10-year age limit on vehicles imported into the Bahamas.
However, Mr McCartney yesterday suggested that fuel quality - as opposed to vehicle age - was the main determinant of auto emissions.
And he questioned why the Christie administration was so focused on vehicle emissions when it had failed to act on greater environmental threats, citing the frequent New Providence landfill fires, oil pollution at Clifton and the Robinson Road gas leak as three situations where the Government had been found wanting.
Mr McCartney suggested that the Government could achieve its objectives via a less draconian approach which would protect legitimate operators and their employees.
“It’s a balancing act, but it can be worked out,” he told Tribune Business. “There are certain things that can be put in place to monitor that, checks and balances.
“A blanket ‘no’ is quite harmful, and we’d certainly ask the Government to reconsider it.”