By Evie Andreou
A COURT order allowing the Nicosia public bus company OSEL to get back part of its fleet stuck at the Arediou terminal, remained unexecuted on Wednesday as a trench was dug overnight preventing their move in what is turning out to be a full blown war between the management and some of its shareholders.
The dispute took a turn for the worse leaving hundreds of passengers served in the Pitsilia area and south west of Nicosia without public transport, forcing students from district schools to miss classes and employees getting late to work.
One of OSEL’s shareholders, Tasos Michaelides, alleges rampant mismanagement of funds and the lack of adequate safety measures.
On Sunday evening, Michaelides had blocked the Arediou terminal with 26 buses and parked another 24 outside the presidential palace where they remained throughout Monday. All the buses outside the presidential palace were towed away by Tuesday night.
Michaelides claims the company is cooking the books, cheating the state over fuel and bus maintenance costs and bribing officials. He also alleged that OSEL was withholding money which is rightfully his “out of vengeance”.
OSEL general manager Andreas Athanasiades yesterday said the company had secured a court order which obliged Michaelides to “hand over the buses and the station”, but it remained unexecuted due to the trench.
Michaelides, who owns part of the OSEL fleet, told the Cyprus Mail that he is willing to start operating his buses again as soon as he sees results as regards his claims against OSEL.
“I don’t see any action taken. The (transport) ministry is covering for them. It allows OSEL to steal public funds, while the ministry is turning a blind eye,” he said.
He added that on Tuesday night OSEL managers and several bus drivers arrived at Arediou to drive away the vehicles owned by OSEL. Someone, he said, tried to enter the lot with a tractor.
CyBC quoted Michaelides as saying that it was one of his sons who later in the night dug the trench to avoid similar attempts.
Despite calls on behalf of OSEL and the transport ministry for police to find a way so that the court order is executed, police spokesman Andreas Angelides told the Cyprus Mail that OSEL’s lawyer is handling the case based on civil law. “Police presence at the Arediou bus terminal is aimed at preventing the possibility of trouble,” he said.
But residents of the 42 affected communities are unimpressed by the inaction or lack of progress on behalf of state authorities and have tried to take matters into their own hands.
Apliki community leader Andreas Sykopetritis and others of the area have acted as mediators between OSEL and Michaelides in an attempt to find a solution, as the area has been deprived of public transport all these days.
Arediou community leader Ioannis Ioannou told the Cyprus Mail that a representation of the community leaders asked to meet with the OSEL management to find a middle ground.
Ioannou said that for the third day in a row residents of the affected communities, students, workers and the elderly are struggling to make arrangements so that they can get to schools, work and hospitals.
He blamed OSEL and the government for keeping the communities in the dark and for not being able to come up with a temporary solution.
He said that due to rash decisions taken when the government decided to go ahead with the overhaul of the island’s public transportation system a few years ago, rural areas are now hostage to the goodwill of the shareholders.
He said that at the moment, he and other community leaders have been struggling to accommodate students and the elderly, and arrange for their transfers to their schools and hospitals. They even drive them themselves, he said.
State officials, he said, told community leaders that it is a private matter and that they cannot interfere.
“As long as tax payer money is infused in OSEL, it is not a private issue, it concerns all of us,” Ioannou said. “No one is bothered about the people who rely on buses, we are kept in the dark and told to wait until further notice”.
OSEL’s Athanasiades said that they are trying to make changes over the route, and that they are also trying to find buses from other sources so that they can “close gaps that have been created”.