Maseru taxi-owners are set to withdraw their vehicles on Tuesday this week and join forces with their employees in petitioning three ministers over a number of grievances which they say threaten the public transport industry.
The public transport operators says they would park their vehicles at the Racecourse near Maseru Mall from 9am, and march to the offices of the ministers of police, finance, and local government and submit a list of their concerns.
The police have since granted the operators permission to stage their protest, which is expected not to go beyond 4pm.
According to Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO) spokesperson, Lebohang Moea, the protest is for government to address three pressing issues afflicting the industry as a matter of urgency.
“All Maseru taxis will be parked at the Racecourse at 9am immediately after dropping workers at their respective workplaces,” Mr Moea on Friday told the Sunday Express. “We have already been issued with a permit by the police, so the protest is going ahead as scheduled.”
Mr Moea further noted the public transport industry had three major grievances which need urgent attention by the government, hence Tuesday’s protest.
“Our first grievance is police behaviour towards the industry. The police treat us unfairly and have turned the sector into a money-making scheme,” Mr Moea said. “They harass us for no apparent reason, arrest our drivers for petty issues so that they can extort money from them. The police arrest our members for very minor things ordinary motorists are not even cautioned for and we find this extremely unfair.”
According to Mr Moea, some of the police officers have set themselves targets they need to extort from taxi drivers, hence the plea to Police Minister Monyane Moleleki.
“We are not asking for favours from the police; we are simply saying they must treat all road-users the same and stop making money out of this industry,” he said.
“We would want Ntate Moleleki, as the police minister, to look into our complaints because if the police continue with their actions, they will surely kill this industry.’
Mr Moea also said the operators are not happy with Finance Minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla over her decision to award South African car-hire firm, Bidvest, a six-month contract to supply government with vehicles and related services.
The ministry awarded Bidvest the deal last month after ending its eight-year association with Avis Fleet Lesotho.
However, the operators say they should have been considered first before Bidvest, hence their decision to march on Dr Khaketla’s office. Although the minister last month explained Bidvest was only awarded the contract to avert a crisis as the Avis deal was terminated abruptly—and also that Bidvest would not be allowed to tender when government eventually invites bids for the fleet supply and maintenance contract— the operators are still not happy.
“We want government to terminate this contract and get Basotho to supply these vehicles. Engaging Bidvest simply means money is flowing out of this country, which should not be happening, and also that we are not empowered as Basotho business-owners,” Mr Moea said.
On the ministry of transport and public works, Mr Moea accused Minister Tšoeu Mokeretla of ignoring pertinent issues contained in a working document signed by government and taxi operators.
Moea said the document was written and signed during the previous government led by Thomas Thabane, which was in power between 2012-2014.
“Among the important issues we want Minister Mokeretla to implement is restructuring the transport industry.
“According to the document in question, it was agreed that government would effect structural changes which would see a council being put in place, as well as regional bodies, and doing away with the current route structures,” Mr Moea told the Sunday Express.
Under the proposed structure, Mr Moea said the council would be “a bridge” between government and regional public transport bodies.
Contacted for comment on Friday, police spokesperson Clifford Molefe confirmed the operators were issued the permit to stage the protest between 9am and 4pm.
“We received their application, processed it and issued them a permit for Tuesday’s march. They are going to petition Police Minister Ntate Moleleki, Finance Minister Dr Khaketla and Transport Minister Ntate Mokeretla,” Senior Inspector Molefe said.
Row over botched taxi project
Eighty public transport operators are at loggerheads with the Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO) executive over a botched multimillion-maloti project.
The initiative would have seen an unnamed investor purchasing 110 Quantum minibuses for the operators after they had each paid M15 000 and M500 registration fee in 2010.
The M15 000 was supposed to pay for the vehicles’ registration, tracker-installation fees and related charges.
MRTO had already engaged Lebone Consultants to run the business of leasing the vehicles to business and government, while the investor was going to be paid off within three years.
In addition to repaying the investor, proceeds from the project were supposed to pay drivers and take care of maintenance. Each operator was also supposed to get M1 500 per month for each vehicle they owned in the pool.
However, all hell broke loose when MRTO had failed to deliver the vehicles by 2011—one year after the ambitious project had been launched.
Sefikeng Mosenekeng Taxi Association deputy secretary Pheelo Letsoara told the Sunday Express that 11 operators from his association were part of the botched project.
“I was the only one among the 11 who submitted M13 000, while the others paid M15 000 each. In total, we handed over M168 500 to the MRTO executive,” Mr Letsoara said. “However, to this day, we have received neither the vehicles nor our refunds from MRTO.”
Mr Letsoara said the members never doubted the executive as things were going smoothly until they were asked to go to Bloemfontein, South Africa, to view the minibuses.
“We were told our vehicles had arrived and asked to choose representatives to go for viewing in Bloemfontein,” he said.
“But instead of inspecting 60 vehicles as promised, we only saw two Quantums. And shortly after, the two vehicles were brought into the country but we were told they belonged to MRTO and were not part of the project. One of the vehicles was placed at Pioneer Mall as a shuttle, while the other was never hired-out.
“When we started asking questions, we were told stories until a decision was made to sell the two vehicles so we could be refunded our money.
“Ntate Moea (MTRO spokesperson) bought the first one and paid M100 000 as first installment. He never paid the remainder and he still owes us,” Mr Letsoara said.
“Our association was given M10 000 from Mr Moea’s installment to be shared among the 11 members but that money is still in our account; we did not share it because it was too little and we expected the money we had paid, which was M168 500.”
According to Mr Letsoara, efforts by the operators to withdraw the contributed funds from the bank have proved fruitless as the MRTO now blames Lebone Consultants for the debacle.
Although Letsoara has given up on his money, other operators have since approached the police to mediate in the crisis.
One of the taxi-operators, Thabo Rantemana, on Tuesday said a “high-ranking police officer” was leading the mediation.
“The mediator has warned us not to discuss these issues with the media until everything has been settled.
“However, I can confirm that the first mediation took place last month and we are still waiting for the police to call us for the second meeting,” Mr Rantemana said.
Another operator, who plies the Tšenola route, said it was unfortunate the project failed to take off and had led to bad blood between fellow public transport operators.
“Some of the operators who contributed to this project have died—some naturally while others suffered heart-attacks after realising they had been conned,” the operator told the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity.
“I believe there was never such a project in the first place. The MRTO executive members knew what they were doing all along and now they are blaming Lebone Consultants over this and exonerating themselves. Surprisingly, this animal called Lebone Consultants is nowhere to be found.”
MRTO spokesperson Lebohang Moea confirmed the aggrieved operators had reported the case to the police for mediation.
“Our first meeting wasn’t successful and we were informed that we would be called for another one and we are still waiting for the mediator to call,” Mr Moea said.
He continued: “What happened was after realising that we didn’t have the expertise to run this project, we engaged Lebone Consultants. We used part of the contributions to pay the consultants, but it’s now two years since we parted company after they failed to deliver on their mandate.
“However, there is no way we could refund the operators without Lebone because we held a joint-account with the consultants.”
Asked why MRTO had not tracked down Lebone and withdrawn the money in the joint-account and hand it over to the aggrieved parties, Mr Moea said the operators had since stripped the MRTO executive of all powers as far as the project was concerned.
“A new executive has been elected to deal with this matter, but the MRTO will still be available to intervene if need be.”
Meanwhile, Mr Moea admitted buying the MRTO vehicle as part of a repayment plan for the operators.
“I cannot disclose how much I was charged, but it is true that I paid M100 000 as first instalment. But it is not true it was sold to me for M190 000 as they claim,” he said.
The Sunday Express could not get hold of Lebone Consultants as the company’s landlines rang unanswered throughout the week.
On his part, police spokesperson Clifford Molefe, said he was not aware of the mediation the MRTO were talking about.