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Transport service fees hike challenged

Mohalenyane Phakela

MASERU taxi operators have teamed up with two human rights bodies to file a High Court application challenging the government’s decision to hike service fees in the Ministry of Transport’s traffic department.

The Transport ministry intends to implement the Road Traffic (Amendment of Schedule) Regulations of 2017 with effect from 1 August 2020. This will result in hikes of service charges including driver’s licences and vehicle registrations.

For instance, the cost of vehicle number plates will shoot up from M60 to M400 and a driver’s licence for a light vehicle will go up by 100 percent from M100 to M200.

Although the government says the increases will only come into effect on 1 August 2020, motorists allege that some of the increases were implemented back in April this year.

This has prompted the Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO), the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and the Consumer Protection Association (CPA) to join forces to challenge the price hikes.

The Minister of Transport, Tšoeu Mokeretla, the Road Transport Board and the Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo are the first to third respondents respectively.

High Court Judge Tšeliso Monapathi will today hear arguments challenging the government’s move to hike the service fees.

The applicants argue that the Transport minister does not have the powers to unilaterally amend the law to increase service fees without consulting stakeholders including the road transport board and motorists.

In his founding affidavit, MRTO’s chairperson, Mokete Jonas, states that they were never consulted by the government when it drew up the latest regulations.

“The imposition of fees…have an impact on the applicants as entities…which own several vehicles,” Mr Jonas states.

“The minister’s decision to prescribe fees…bears the potential of affecting the legal rights of all the applicants before this court.

“The rule of law concept postulates that an administrator cannot make a decision that has an adverse impact on a citizen and or corporate body without according the latter a hearing …The impugned regulations were unilaterally imposed and are for that reason defective…”

The MRTO chairperson also states that although the regulations were drawn up and published in 2017 by then Transport Minister, Lehlohonolo Moramotse, they were never implemented.

He said this was probably because they had not been consulted as stakeholders.

Mr Jonas said they learned that Mr Mokeretla, who was appointed when the current regime came into power in May this year, intends to implement the regulations.

“From 2017 until early 2020 it seemed there was a hiatus on the implementation of the regulations. The problem started around May 2020. We immediately registered our complaint with the first respondent (Mr Mokeretla) and requested a meeting with him and his counterparts.”

Mr Jonas said the first meeting was held on 27 May 2020 but they failed to agree on anything. He said the second one was held on 29 May and at the last meeting on 12 June, Mr Mokeretla explicitly stated that the new fees would not be reconsidered.

“We were never informed of these regulations…that may weigh against our interests. Fairness requires that we be informed of these issues. The regulations present increased fees which go beyond an astronomical 200 percent increase. There is no rational justification for this and this remains without a sound justification,” Mr Jonas states.

CPA executive director, Nkareng Letsie, said the government ought to have sought the views of the consumers before making “unjustified” price hikes.

“Considering these increments vis-a-sis the current economic environment and the global health crisis (Coronavirus pandemic) which will continue to worsen and relentlessly attack economies throughout the world, the increments are not affordable.

“It is common cause that consumers are already financially handicapped by the current economic environment which is exacerbated by Coronavirus. The increment, is in comparison, like sucking the life and blood out of a weak patient,” Dr Letsie states in his affidavit.

The applicants therefore want the High Court to stay the implementation of the new regulations pending the finalisation of their application.

In terms of final reliefs, they want the court to order the new regulations which impose the new fees to be “reviewed and set aside on grounds of being irregular and unlawful”.

They also want the court to declare that the Transport minister does not have powers to unilaterally increase service fees “without public participation and consultation with the relevant stakeholders who are most likely to be affected by the imposition of such fees and rates”.

 

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