TAXI owners operating under the banner of the Maseru Region Transport Operators (MRTO) have dragged Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli to the High Court over the “illegal” arrests of their drivers by the police and impounding of their taxis for failing to pay cash fines best known as Tjotjo (bribes).
Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase last week issued a temporary interdict barring the police from arresting taxi drivers and impounding their vehicles until the finalisation of the MRTO application.
Officers assigned to the traffic department in the police service, are notorious for demanding bribes from motorists, mostly public transport vehicles to let them get away with the traffic offences they may have committed.
Taxi drivers are often arrested for loading passengers at forbidden spots, overloading passengers and making illegal U-turns. They complain they are then compelled to pay spot fines in cash failing which their vehicles are impounded. But such spot fines are a ruse. They are not receipted and go straight into the pockets of the police officers.
Lesotho’s traffic police are notorious for collecting bribes and have been recorded by vigilant motorists. However, they have continued with their impunity forcing the MRTO to seek help from the courts.
What irks the MRTO most is that when their taxis have been impounded, after refusing to pay the “spot fines”, it takes long for them to get the vehicles back. In the meantime they will be losing on business. They taxi bosses have thus won an interdict against the seizure of their vehicles pending the finalisation of their case.
“The first and second respondents, and/or officers subordinate to them, are restrained and interdicted from impounding commercial vehicles … arresting and detaining applicant’s members for failure to pay spot fines immediately upon demand pending the finalisation hereof,” reads Justice Mahase’s order.
Commissioner Molibeli, the Traffic Commissioner and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are first to third respondents respectively in the application.
The state’s lawyer, Letsie Moshoeshoe, had told the court that Commissioner Molibeli was not opposing the interim reliefs sought by the MRTO.
Advocate Rethabile Setlojoane represented the MRTO. The matter is back in the courts on 3 August 2023.
MRTO chairperson, Mokete Jonas, states in his founding affidavit that it was illegal for the police to impound commercial vehicles willy-nilly. The law only allowed for the impounding of a vehicle by a police officer when it was likely to cause danger to other road users if allowed to continue operating. In the incidents complained of, the police mostly seized road worthy vehicles to target drivers not willing to pay tjotjo, he claims.