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Parties woo taxi industry

 

. . . as operators outline demands for next govt

’Marafaele Mohloboli

TAXI operators say successive governments have largely ignored their concerns that include the perennial cross-border impasse with their South African counterparts and their “harassment” by traffic police.

The operators also accuse the current government of side-lining them in the new policy of hiring Basotho-owned vehicles for its fleet after the termination of a controversial vehicle fleet services contract with Bidvest Bank Limited.

They said this during a meeting with political parties in Maseru on Thursday to articulate their expectations ahead of the 3 June 2017 general elections.

Lesotho will hold its third elections in five years after the four-party opposition alliance successfully sponsored a parliamentary no-confidence motion on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s seven-party coalition government on 1 March 2017. Six days later, King Letsie III dissolved parliament and eventually declared 3 June 2017 as election day.

The meeting was attended by All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane, his Reformed Congress for Lesotho counterpart Keketso Rantšo, Alliance of Democrats spokesperson Teboho Lehloenya, Basotho National Party Deputy Secretary-General Tšepo Monethi and spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe, and Movement for Economic Change Treasurer Makhetha Thaele.

The forum, which was facilitated by Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations Executive Director Seabata Motsamai, was also attended by Mpulule Political Summit leader, Pastor Remaketse Sehlabaka whose contestation in the upcoming polls will be determined on Tuesday by the High Court.

Pastor Sehlabaka recently lodged a court application to compel the Independent Electoral Commission to allow the party to contest in the polls after submitting the registration application with the electoral body late.

In his remarks, Maseru Regional Taxi Operators Chairman Mokete Jonas said the industry was no longer profitable because of successive governments’ failure to address their challenges.

He cited the perennial cross-border turf war with South African taxi operators, saying the government was not doing enough to ensure they safely transport commuters into South Africa.

Over the years, Basotho-owned cross-border taxis have been vandalised and the drivers assaulted by their South African counterparts despite an agreement for taxis from Lesotho to take passengers to any point across the border.

Mr Jonas said the taxi industry also wanted clarity on the C and D permits required to operate on the roads. Taxi drivers are also required to have a public transport permits to ferry passengers.

“There is a lot of confusion regarding the interpretation of what a C and D permit is for,” he said.

“We have since asked the government to engage an independent commission to help with the interpretation of these regulations and come up with suitable amendments.”

Taxi operators, Mr Jonas said, were also bearing the brunt of “harassment” by traffic police through arrests where spot fines would ordinarily suffice.  He said the frequent arrests were fuelling corruption as the drivers would end up paying bribes to remain on the roads.

“Taxi drivers are continually harassed through needless arrests in situations where the police should just issue a spot fine,” he said.

“These bribes foster corruption by forcing drivers to bribe the traffic officers which in turn negatively affects our ability to make profits.”

Mr Jonas said they also wanted the government to approve an increase in taxi fares, adding that there had been no hike since 2013.

“We had requested to be allowed to raise the fares by M1.00 every year, since all the other commodities are rising from time to time.

“But to date, this issue has not been dealt with. Yet petrol prices have increased from time to time and vehicle spares are also getting costly.”

Another issue of concern for the taxi operators is their exclusion from a new government policy of hiring Basotho-owned vehicles for its fleet.

The new policy was announced after Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane cancelled the controversial vehicle fleet services contract with Bidvest Bank Limited with effect from 1 April 2017.

Mr Sekhamane indicated that the government would adopt a new policy of hiring Basotho-owned vehicles with the contracts not exceeding 12 months.

He also said the vehicles must have mileage of not more than 30 000 kilometres, under a motor service plan and insured under a comprehensive insurance for the duration of the 12-month contract.

The minister also stated that applications from the following categories of people and their spouses or partners would not be accepted: ministers and deputy ministers, members of parliament, occupants of statutory positions, principal secretaries, all public servants at the level of director and above, chief executives, managing directors and all holders of equivalent positions in government enterprises and parastatals.

On the types and quantities of vehicles needed, Mr Sekhamane said the government required 973 vehicles made up of 147 Sedan 1.4l, 38 sedan 1.6l, four sedans 1.8l, 14 sedans 2.0l, 16 double cab up to 2500cc short wheelbase (SWB) 4×2, 720 double cab up to 2500cc SWB4x4, 32 single cab up to 2500cc long wheel base 4×4, two panel van-2 tonners.

However, Mr Jonas said taxi operators had been promised a chance to lease out 200 vehicles to the government under the new policy.

“But to date, nothing has happened. We feel like our government has neglected us as the transport sector as it busies itself with awarding tenders,” he said.

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