MASERU – The taxi industry has embarked on a stay away after the government failed to address its demands. The industry wants the government to amend the national gazette on public health (COVID-19) regulations 2020 to allow an increase in the number of passengers public transport vehicles are allowed to carry or fares increase to cover the money they lose due to carrying fewer passengers.
They also demand the gazette increasing the prices of number plates and vehicle fitness examination to be suspended. Lesotho Taxi Association Public Relations Officer Lebohang Moea said yesterday they took this decision because the government has not addressed any of their demands. He said the only way they can go back on the road is if the gazette increasing the price of number plates and fitness is suspended while they continue negotiations with the government. The stay away which started yesterday will continue today until Tuesday.
“If there is still no progress by Tuesday, we will decide on a way forward,” he said. The industry initially gave the government until April 21 to respond to their grievances but to date no action has been taken towards their demands. The sector’s leaders say they have been excluded from all financial relief measures the government has granted to businesses but are expected to abide by World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ministry of Health’s safety guidelines to stem the spread of COVID-19 at their expense.
Maseru Regional Taxi Operators (MRTO) Chairman Mokete Jonas noted this has seen the industry losing approximately M360 per day, M10 800 per month and M64 800 in six months for a single 15-seater taxi making at least eight trips per day. Jonas said a 4+1 taxi that takes at least 12 loads per day loses M96 per day, M2 880 a month and is projected to lose M17 280 in six months. “A sprinter commuting between Maseru and Quthing loses M810 per day for a single load, M24 300 per month and M145 800 in six months, while a bus commuting between Maseru and Thaba Tseka loses M3 300 per day for a single load, M99 000 per month and M594 000 in six months,” he said.
Despite such heavy losses the industry is experiencing, the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) is still expecting them to file for their tax as they do not qualify for the tax relief measures put in place, he added.
Apart from the loss they are running, he said, the ministry of public works and transport has increased prices for number plates from M60 to M400, and fitness examination from M90 to M360, making it hard for the industry to operate during the lockdown. The government gazette on public health COVID-19 regulations 2020 allows a 4+1 taxi to carry three passengers, a 15-seater taxi to carry nine passengers, a 22-seater sprinter to carry 13 passengers and a 65-seater bus to carry 35 passengers from 8am to 4pm and from 6am to 7pm for purposes of transporting factory workers.
Jonase said against this background, they plead with the government to revise the gazette and allow them to take more passengers and promise to abide by safety precautions. “Hear me well, we do support the ministry of health’s efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 and are prepared to stick to their recommendations and those of WHO but that should not be done at our expense while other companies are allowed to operate on a full scale,” he said. He also noted that the government should reconsider reducing fitness and plate numbers’ prices as these hit hard on their already empty pockets.
Jonas said failure by the government to address their grievances will leave them with no choice but to double the fares or go on a total shutdown starting on May 21. “Since we are running a loss and are the ones financing this lock down while other businesses are allowed full operation, we will be left with no choice but to increase taxi fares to compensate our loss. If we do not increase the fares, we will refrain from operating countrywide and this time around we are united and no taxi will be available to transport people while we are on strike,” he said.
He said their meetings with the government and Lesotho Revenue Authority to find out and negotiate how they can be assisted were futile. Lesotho Taxi Association Public Relations Officer Lebohang Moea said from onset, they were promised a waiver for Simplified Business Taxation (SBT) due and payable during the lockdown but on their arrival at LRA to apply for the waiver, they were returned under the pretext that no one knows the person responsible for the category public transport falls under.
However, public transport, especially 4+1 taxis, are still accessible and operating as usual. This is despite Moea assuring this publication that this time around they will be united and no taxis will be operating. A 4+1 taxi driver who did not want to be identified said he will continue operating as the strike and its outcome will not benefit him in any way.
He said there is a certain group in the industry that stands to benefit from the strike while the rest will be left out so he is tired of always supporting the industry but gets left out when it’s time to benefit. “During lockdown, we were told that we will operate rotationally but that did not happen as the permits that were given to the industry circulated amongst a certain group in the industry.
“They should fight their battles alone just like they enjoy the benefits of this industry alone,” he said. In response, Moea said as much as this is a free country and people are allowed to do what they want, they are united in this but most people did not get messages notifying them of the strike on time which is why they took passengers to work in the morning. He said such drivers have since parked their cars and joined the strike.