By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
SOME 20 contracted public school bus drivers in Grand Bahama protested outside a government office complex in Freeport after their contracts, which would have expired in 2020, were terminated by the Ministry of Education.
The drivers, who were supported by Progressive Liberal Party chairman and Senator Fred Mitchell, are claiming victimisation and unfair termination.
School bus driver Kevin Ferguson claimed the Minnis administration entered into new contracts with individuals who are all supporters of the Free National Movement. He claimed some students were not picked up Monday morning for school because many of the new contracted school bus drivers did not have buses to transport them.
“We rode around this morning, and our school kids were not picked up because they did not have buses,” Mr Ferguson said. “We decided to take a stand because we thought it was unfair to us, to the kids, parents, and everybody who believes that this government is a government that speaks out highly against corruption and wrongdoing.”
Mr Ferguson had been contracted as a school bus driver in 2015, and his contract was to expire in June 2020. He transported students from Pinder’s Point and Mack Town areas and Sunrise Subdivision to St George’s High School.
“Last year we had gotten a letter from the Ministry of Education indicating that they are using clause four to terminate our contracts and that our services would no longer be needed,” he said.
Mr Ferguson claims the ministry did not put the new bus driving contracts out to public tender, but instead chose a select group of persons to bid on the same contracts that were terminated.
“I do not believe in injustice. I do not believe in no form of corruption, I don’t care what persons say about me. Everybody who knows me from local government, if it is wrong I speak out against it. I don’t care who do it,” Mr Ferguson said. “I had sleepless nights (over this), and I said we have to take a stand because the people of this country needs to understand that it’s enough of this nonsense. The election is over 6pm on Election Day. After that, we are all Bahamians.
“If you are going to penalise me for being a PLP, penalise me in the right form. I had a contract until 2020; allow me to utilise the contract until its expiration date, and if you wish to give your supporters those contracts I would be the first to say thank you for allowing me to complete my term, but that did not happen.”
Mr Ferguson claimed many of the new bus drivers did not legally qualify for the jobs because they did not have buses and should not have been allowed to participate in the bidding process.
“School opened today, and the new contractors who got the letters of offer were scrambling since Friday - about 20 of them trying to purchase buses and asking everybody from here and Abaco to purchase buses,” he claimed.
He said drivers who have had their contracts terminated have sought legal representation and plan to file legal an action against the government. “We are definitely taking this matter to court. It is blatant discrimination and victimisation,” Mr Ferguson said.
“Any individual who would have been given a contract from the Ministry of Education today that do not have a bill of sale for a bus dated beyond the closure of the bidding process should be legally disqualified from getting the contract because it is evident that they did not meet the requirement necessary for them to able to bid,” he explained.
For his part, Mr Mitchell described the situation as “naked political victimisation.”
“It was heart-wrenching to hear the stories of hardship this has caused these contractors,” Mr Mitchell added. “What is even worse is that quite apart from the unfair tribalism which the government is practising, the children are suffering. Many of them were not collected this morning, and so they were unable to attend school because the government did not take the steps to provide replacement services.
“. . .It is bad management and anti-democratic. The minister of education must think again and bring immediate relief to the children of Grand Bahama and restore the contracts to the old drivers,” he said.
Yesterday, Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson pushed back at the criticism, saying the complaints “have no merit.”
He told ZNS’ Northern Service there were no major incidents in respect to school pick ups and drops offs on the island yesterday, chalking the controversy up to partisanship.
In December 2018, Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd said the government terminated contracts for dozens of Family Island school bus drivers but intended to rehire them and give them better terms of employment.
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