. . . accuse Transport minister of ignoring their grievances
TAXI operators have asked Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to intervene in their feud with Public Works and Transport Minister Lehlohonolo Moramotse, whom they accuse of ignoring their grievances.
Key among the grievances is the minister’s alleged failure to resolve the taxi operators’ dispute with their South African counterparts over ferrying passengers from Maseru to different destinations in the neighbouring country.
The long running clashes flared up again on Wednesday last week, with local taxi operators blocked from ferrying passengers into South Africa. This is despite a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Free Movement of Persons Policy that is meant to facilitate smooth cross border operations between member states.
The operators are particularly incensed by the fact that there are no such disputes between South Africa and Botswana or Zimbabwe operators.
In a letter seen by the Lesotho Times, the operators accuse Mr Moramotse and his Principal Secretary (PS), Mothabathe Hlalele, of “dismally” failing to address problems in the sector.
Part of the letter, dated 14 November 2017, reads: “We have problems with the minister and his PS who have been refusing to sit down with us and address problems in the transport sector despite all efforts taken to seek their ear in the matter.
“We even went as far as asking the parliamentary chief whip (All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislator for Khubetsoana Likopo Mahase) and other legislators to assist in solving this problem and they failed as well.”
The operators cite other challenges that include lack of a proper working structure with the ministry, unreviewed transport fares, transfer and gazettes of permits, registration of taxis and the government’s policy on hiring public transport.
Maseru Region Transport Operators spokesperson Lebohang Moea told this publication this week that the standoff with their South African counterparts usually worsened during the festive periods.
“We are always experiencing these cross-border problems, but they worsen during major holidays like Christmas,” he said.
“The SA operators and their police officers make sure that we don’t have a share in the profits generated during these holidays.”
Mr Moea said they had tried every trick in the book, including strikes and barricading the Maseru Border Post, in the hope of finding a long-lasting solution to the impasse.
He indicated that they were making some headway in finding a solution with former Public Works and Transport minister Tšoeu Mokeretla before the seven-party coalition government he served was booted out after the 3 June 22017 parliamentary elections.
“Ntate Mokeretla was on the verge of ensuring that the cross-border issue at the Maseru Bridge was discussed at the SADC summit level and when the new minister came in, we did everything possible to take things from where Ntate Mokeretla had left off. But he seems not to be interested at all. This is why we have asked the prime minister to intervene,” Mr Moea said.
He also claimed that Dr Thabane had requested to be given 21 days, which lapsed last Thursday, to address their grievances. The Lesotho Times could not verify that claim.
Commenting on the allegations, Mr Moramotse said it was untrue that he and his PS had refused to sit down with the operators and discuss their grievances.
“We will never refuse to see anyone. Our offices are always open to everyone and they are welcome to meet with us,” the minister said.
“I, however, cannot discuss this matter further as I have heard that they have written to the prime minister and therefore it would be insubordinate of me to respond to the issues before the office of the prime minister which is superior to mine.”
Mr Hlalele said he was not in a position to respond to issues raised to the premier when he had not pronounced himself, when contacted by this publication.
“It would be insubordinate of me to start interrogating issues that have been raised with my superior,” he said.
“I will have to respect the PM and not respond to these allegations. But the fact of the matter is that no one is barred from coming to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and I know my minister feels the same way.”
Mr Hlalele added: “My Minister, his deputy and I have the obligation to always listen to anyone who comes here to present their grievances at all material times, but people should accord everyone in the ministry the respect every human being deserves.
“No one should feel that they are above others and therefore can come here disrespecting and insulting everyone.”
For his part, Dr Thabane’s Press Attaché Thabo Thakalekoala said he was not aware of any correspondence between the operators and the premier.
“Please talk to the GS (Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka). He might be in a better place to respond to your questions,” Mr Thakalekoala said.
Attempts to get hold of Mr Mphaka were fruitless as his phone rang unanswered yesterday.
Meanwhile, Likhetlane legislator, Lekhetho Mosito, told this paper he was one of the three legislators asked to mediate between the two parties.
“We were called by the operators to mediate between them and the minister,” he said.
“We listened to their grievances, which included cross-border issues and their claim that the minister took them for granted and was never going to address their grievances.
“We then went to Minister Moramotse and he complained that the operators were not respectful to anyone in the ministry and would hurl insults whenever they came to the ministry offices.”
Mr Mosito added: “When we went back to sit down with the operators, they thanked us for our efforts and told us that they were going to seek assistance from the prime minister. What we learnt from the two separate meetings we had with them was that the two sides have a lot of pride and cannot even agree on a simple thing of having a proper meeting.”