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Taxi owners want minister out

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Caswell Tlali

MASERU — Taxi owners want Transport and Public Works Minister Keketso Rantšo and her principal secretary in the ministry to resign. The taxi operators told a press conference on Tuesday that if the two do not resign within 14 days they will embark on nation-wide strike. Taxi operators from the north were represented by Limema Phoohlo while those from the south were represented by Maloisane Mothabeng.

The central region was represented by the Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO) while the Thaba-Tseka Taxi Operators Association was represented by Khotso Soro. Operators from the districts were also in attendance.
The taxi operators accused Rantšo and Phooko of perpetuating the “ills done by the previous government, which we removed from power because of acts that belittled us and messed up our businesses”. Their biggest gripe is that Rantšo and Phooko were working with the Road Transport Board “to disrupt the smooth running of the taxi business in this country”.

They said the board, which is appointed by the minister, has failed to defend their interests. They want it dissolved immediately. They also accused Rantšo and Phooko of unlawfully issuing permits for taxis to operate in the same way instead of according to their categories. Mokete Jonas, the MRTO chairperson, said the two “were messing up the
transport business” perpetuating chaos in the taxi industry.

“We have lost hope in them and we don’t want to see them holding any position of leadership in this ministry,” Jonas said.
“Even if they can pledge to make corrections, that pledge would have come too late. “We have lost all hope in them.”
The taxi operators said according to regulations smaller taxis, commonly known as 4+1, are not supposed to compete with mini-buses at taxi ranks to ferry passengers.

But despite these regulations the 4+1 taxis have been allowed to operate like mini-buses in clear violation of the law.
The department had also given operating permits to individuals owning vehicles such the Noah, Gaia and Avanza that operate like mini-buses. The taxi operators say the transport department has broken the law by failing to hold public hearings before issuing taxis with permits and allocating routes. “Rantšo and Phooko together with this board have caused overcrowding of taxis and buses at the ranks because they issue operating permits unlawfully,” Jonas said.

The Maseru Star Taxi Association president, Thabiso Tšosane, added that the taxi strike will be successful because the
government, unlike in the past, does not have buses. The government company, the Lesotho National Freight and Bus Service, bought over 20 buses in 2008 when taxi operators went on strike with the aim to take civil servants to work.
Tšosane said they are reliably informed that “the (majority of the) buses are no longer” on the roads.

Rantšo declined to comment when contacted over the phone yesterday. Phooko said he had no other comment than his written response to the taxi operators. In his response Phooko said the taxi operators had not attached letters from
other associations showing that they agreed with their position. He also said there are some taxi associations which told the ministry that they were not part of those who are seeking his ouster.

He however did not mention the associations’ names. “In your letter (dated June 20, 2013) you say you are representing taxi associations throughout Lesotho but there are some taxi associations that approached the ministry to say they do not associate with you,” Phooko said in a letter.

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