By Ntsebeng Motsoeli
MASERU — Lerato (not his real name) will do anything to get his cab full.
He stops his car in the middle of a busy road, gets out to lure a potential passenger who is now being touted by at least two other cab drivers to jump onto their taxis too.
Luckily, he manages to win her over. He escorts her to the car and closes the door behind to ensure that no one else takes her away from his taxi.
He is not aware of two traffic police officers who are riding on a motorbike coming from behind. By the time he sees them it is too late to close the taxi door and drive away.
He is summoned to the bike that has stopped right behind his car.
A few seconds later he comes back to the car, reaches for a container he uses to keep money, draws out a M20 banknote, wraps it in a scrap paper and goes back to the police officers.
From the back seat of the car, one can clearly see one officer open a small book, the size of a passport and the cab driver slides the wrapped money in.
In a matter of minutes, it is over and Lerato gets into his taxi and drives off.
Back in the taxi he tells us of how he had to “prepare tax” for the officers to let him off the hook.
“I would not pay a spot fine when I could just pay M20. These people (traffic police officers) are our brothers. They understand that we are desperate to get passengers and so we have to break the traffic laws,” he says.
A few metres away he makes another abrupt stop to pick a passenger at an unauthorised spot.
Another commuter warns him of the two police officers riding a motorbike police trailing us.
Lerato says he is not scared of them anymore.
He has paid his dues so they would no longer want anything from him for the day.
“This is how we survive here,” he tells a female passenger who looks to be bewildered by the happenings.
“Ask any taxi driver and you will hear that everyone of them has had to bribe traffic police officers for committing an offence,” he said.
Another taxi driver who identifies himself as Hloni says theirs is a rush job where one cannot waste time settling spot fines.
In this business, he says, taxi drivers have to “straighten out” their issues with the police as fast as possible without getting spot fines and waiting in long queues to pay out.
Spot fines are paid at the Lesotho Revenue Authority in Maseru and Sub-Accountancy offices in other districts.
“You have to sort out the matter with the police officer who arrests you. It’s smaller money than what you would have to pay at LRA. Time is important here and you have to make the most out of it to make as much money as you can,” Hloni says.
Police spokesperson Senior Inspector Lebona Mohloboli said there are no recent reports of police officers soliciting bribes from motorists who have committed traffic offences.
Mohloboli says however, police have heard that members of the public talk about the matter.
“People continue to talk about the practice but no one has come forward to report the matter. It is a criminal offence for anyone to give money to a police officer to stop them from doing their work. It is also an offence for a police officer to unduly accept money from a member of the public,” Mohloboli says.
He said that there is no system where motorists have to pay fines on the spot, so it should be odd for a motorist to be seen giving money to a police officer who has arrested them.
“A police officer should give the motorist a spot fine receipt to be paid at the Sub Accountant offices or at the Treasury.
“Spot fines range from M30 for things like worn-out tyres, faulty lights and picking a passenger at unauthorised stops in the case of taxis. Overload and expired clearance certificates are fined about M180,” he says.
Mohloboli said that all the monies are to be paid at the Treasury or Sub Accountant offices and not to individual police officers, adding that “. . . police officers receive their monthly salaries so they do not have to accept any more money from anyone for doing their job”.
“Such are the disgraceful practices that we condemn. Legal action will be taken against police officers who are found receiving money from members of the public and, in turn, those who give the money,” Mohloboli said.