School Pupils from different schools especially in the Western Area Rural and other parts of the country are faced with tremendous challenges over the systemic halt of the School Bus Service.
Pupils are suffering for public transportations and even getting late to their respective schools because government has failed to pay about two Months salary to the bus drivers.
The existing situation has imposed huge financial burden on pupils and parents wherein the pupils are now charged to pay ten thousand Leones (le10,000) from their meager lunch.
In order to complement the Free Quality Education, government brought in fifty school buses which were distributed to every district headquarter towns across the country in early September 2019, to ameliorate the long constraints faced by pupils over transportation. But the move seemed to be derailed due to the periodic strike actions of the drivers simply because they are not paid.
Haja Mabinty Kargo is a pupil from the Annie Wash Memorial School. She said they have been suffering since last week, because the school buses have not been not running and that drivers of public transportations have been asking them to pay ten thousand Leones (10,000) from Waterloo to Bombay Street in Freetown.
"For coming to school every day, we are suffering because there is no means of transportation including the government school buses. And even for the few public ones that are available, we have been asked to pay ten thousand Leones (le10, 000) from Waterloo to Bombay Street in Freetown. If we don't pay the ten thousand Leones, we can't be able to go to school," she lamented.
Also,Mary Watta Bongay is a pupil from the International Pentecostal Senior Secondary School. She said the transportation issue has become terrible and that they have to walk from Calaba Town to a certain distance before they could access transportation to school.
Alhaji S. Jalloh is one of the drivers of the school buses. He said they have been calling on the Human Resource Manager of the Western Rural District Council to ensure how they could fuel the buses and look for means of paying their salaries, but to no avail.
He further said that it will be difficulty for them to go to work without being paid for the previous months because they have families to take care of.
"We are sympathising with our children for the suffering since the buses are not running and we also feel their pains. But it will be difficult for us to go to work without salary because I have to eat, have family to feed, have pupils to take care of, pay house rent and I also have to pay ten thousand Leones everyday as fares to go for work. I have no other means of having money," he said.
Ibrahim B. Koroma is another driver that plies from Borbor to Lumley. He registered his frustration over the delay in the payment of their salaries.
He said they will resume work if their salaries are paid because it is their salaries that called them fathers in their respective homes.
"We cannot be driving and thinking about the welfare of our families at home without food. The mental disorder itself will cause accident and that is what we want to avoid since we value the lives of the pupils we drive," he said.
He narrated that the initial agreement on their salary was one million Leones Le 1,000,000, but later having worked for a month, government including the councils decided to pay them seven hundred and fifty thousand Leones Le 750,000,which they consented but yet government has reneged on paying them.
However, Finance Officer of the Western Area Rural Council, Amadu Barrie, stated that government through the Ministry of Transport and Aviation and the Ministry of Local Government gave the responsibility to the councils to run the school buses.
He said the buses are running on a cost recovery basis and that there is no allocated subvention for their operation and paying salaries to drivers.
He added that they attached two drivers to a bus and that they started running the buses on the 16th September 2019.
He said council didn't pay the drivers for the Month of September because they ran the buses for half month and that they didn't realise anything for that month.
He also said that the fundamental issue relating to the strike action of the drivers was that they are working on contract basis, but wanted to be paid monthly.
"The problem with this strike right now, the drivers want us to pay them even if they didn't work, failing to understand that they are contractual staff. Now for the whole of November the buses didn't run. They were parked but they want to be paid for the November Month,"
He promised that the issue will be resolved with immediate effect because they have held meetings with the Local Government Ministry and that they will ensure drivers are paid and pupils started using the buses again.