Public transport operators are demanding the termination of a six-month contract government has signed with South Africa’s Bidvest Car Rental.
Under the deal, which came into effect this month, Bidvest is supplying government with vehicles and maintaining the fleet.
However, local taxi operators are not happy that the contract was given to a foreign-owned company and without going to open tender.
Bidvest replaced Avis Fleet Lesotho—a subsidiary of Seahlolo Transport Logistics (Pty) Ltd—after relations between government and the company soured amid allegations and counter-accusations of fraud. The two had been in partnership since 2007.
However, local public transport operators have given government an ultimatum to either cancel the contract by next week or face legal action.
Addressing a press conference in Maseru yesterday, the spokesperson of the operators, Lebohang Moea, said government was not showing respect to local businesses.
“We are speaking here not just as taxi operators, but concerned Basotho who have the capacity to supply government with minibuses, 4X4s and luxury vehicles.
“During elections, the Independent Electoral Commission hires our cars; Lesotho recently hosted regional municipal games and we also provided our vehicles for the games without any problem. So why can’t the government give us the opportunity to supply it with vehicles and services the same way that Bidvest and Avis have done?
“By Monday next week, if we don’t get an answer, we will apply for a permit from the police so that we can march on the streets of Maseru to demonstrate our anger about this issue. We will petition the Minister of Finance, ‘Mamphono Khaketla, Minister of Public Works and Transport, Tšoeu Mokeretla and Minister of Police Monyane Moleleki and highlight our grievances concerning this Bidvest deal.”
Mr Moea also said the operators would resort to the courts should the government ignore their protest.
“We had a meeting with the Minister of Public Works on Wednesday last week concerning the same Bidvest issue, but nothing came of it. That’s why we have resorted to this course of action because we believe we are not being taken seriously.”
On his part, the chairperson of the North, Central and South Regions of Public Transport Operators , Mokete Jonase, accused the government of hiring cars owned by private South African citizens and not Bidvest as the authorities are claiming.
“Why would government hire cars that are over 10 years old yet we have the same cars here in Lesotho? Why hire cars that are owned by individuals when we are capable of providing similar, if not better vehicles, here as Basotho?
“We know of one South African radio presenter whose taxis have been hired by government under the guise that they are Bidvest vehicles. But we won’t allow this to happen,” Mr Jonase fumed.
Asked to comment on the operators’ allegations, government spokesperson and Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi said: “Government urged taxi operators and other Basotho to establish companies that would bid to manage the government fleet.
“But what’s painful is instead of heeding our advice, they have decided to protest.
“You can’t just march; they need to come to us so that we talk and iron out issues.”