Operators engaged in the free school transport scheme say they are not being paid, with some drivers threatening to stop the service unless the matter is rectified, the Times of Malta has learnt.
Operators and drivers who spoke to the Times of Malta on condition of anonymity insist that though they had been transporting children to and from schools on a daily basis since the start of the scholastic year, they had yet to be paid.
Some drivers/owners have informed parents they might not be in a position to provide the service for much longer because though they had to fork out money for fuel and to cover wear and tear expenses they had no financial return.
“Everyone knows how expensive running a minibus is,” one driver complained.
“Apart from not being paid for the service we are providing, we also have to cover costs.”
It is estimated that drivers have already made about 50 trips per route since the service was launched.
The operators said one driver was paid by the government just hours after he informed parents the service would be terminated. The driver had been chasing the Education Department for weeks demanding payment, they added. However, according to a government spokeswoman, the driver in question had not submitted any invoices.
Contractors said they were struggling to pay drivers because they were not getting their dues from the government.
An Education Ministry spokeswoman said that, in line with the agreement signed with all service providers, they should send two invoices every month in order to be paid.
“By the first week of every month, the service provider shall submit an invoice for that particular month which covers 75 per cent of the estimated cost of the service to be provided during that month and, by the end of every month, the service providers shall submit another invoice for that particular month that covers the remaining 25 per cent of the actual cost of the service to be provided during that month.
“Then, on the receipt of the invoice, the contracting authority will pay on account the estimated cost of service for the said month within four weeks,” the spokeswoman said, quoting the agreement.
She noted that, to date, all payments were issued “in accordance with the invoices received”.
The free transport scheme, rolled out for the first time in September, has repeatedly made headlines in recent months, with parents and schools flagging various shortcomings.
Days before the schools opened their doors, there were over 800 students on the waiting list for a seat on minibuses. While welcoming the increase in work, operators had told the Times of Malta that better planning by the government was needed.
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