The Member of Parliament for Tonota South and the Assistant Speaker of Parliament, Pono Moatlhodi, may be the fall guy in President Ian Khama’s engineered inquiry into the Tonota Bus Rank controversy.
Khama announced on Friday that he will institute a full inquiry into the controversy surrounding the Tonota Bus Rank fiasco only a few days after it emerged that his closest confidante, Thapelo Olopeng, intends challenging Moatlhodi in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary primary elections for Tonota South.
The Bus Rank issue is expected to be Moatlhodi’s downfall, paving way for Olopeng. Political watchers are reading a sinister motive into the inquiry, that Khama is engineering Moatlhodi’s ouster to make way for his friend.
The president told Tonota residents that: “It is of great concern that the Tonota bus/taxi rank remains underutilized despite extensive consultation with the community undertaken during the Tonota Shashe Development Plan in 2000 to 2004 that determined the location of the bus rank.”
The president promised to take the Minister of Transport and Communication, Nonofo Molefhi, to task on Monday over the long unresolved issue.
Khama’s planned inquiry comes months after transport operators reported Moatlhodi to the former Minister of Roads Transport and Communications, Frank Ramsden, complaining that the legislator who operates buses in the village does not want to comply with the regulations of the Transport Department and is crowding out taxi operators by collecting passengers in the village instead of waiting at the bus rank.
“Our Member of Parliament does not even care about the plight of other transport business operators and taxi men, but instead he is selfish and when we address the issue in Kgotla meetings he is arrogant,” said a member of the Tonota Taxi Association. The bus operators told The Sunday Standard that the MP at times uses government vehicles to escort his bus when it is in operation.
An incident is alleged in which he blocked a combi from Ditladi Village, saying that it was taking his passengers and the police were summoned to intervene. However, the Public Transport Operators in Tonota point an accusing finger at the Police Officers and Transport officials for failing to enforce the law and seeing to it that those who break regulations are brought to book.
“Pono Moatlhodi is a public figure and he is the one who has always lobbied for this rank to be built but he is turning against regulations and we still wonder what type of permit his bus is using,” fumed a transport operator during an earlier interview with the Sunday Standard.
In a telephone interview, Moatlhodi refuted all the allegations, saying they were all lies. He said he does not even run the business as it is under the management of his wife.
Moatlhodi further stated that some bus operators in the village have always been poking their noses in his family business but does not know why they have a problem with this business.
“I know the person who told you all this and if he continues to say this nonsense I will sue him in court for P1 million,” he told Sunday Standard.
Moatlhodi went on to mention that if indeed he uses government vehicles in his business interests, those who feel irritated have the right to take him to the rightful authorities, such as the Department of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) where proper measures can be taken.
Touching again on the abuse of government vehicles, Moatlhodi rubbished the allegations as a blue lie. He pointed out that he has been in the transport business since the late 80s and he has never violated any of the transport regulations and added that there are certain individuals who are bitter against his businesses.
“It is also an absolute lie that I denied a combi from Ditladi Village on the claim that it takes away my passengers; this is simply to blemish my image,” he maintained.
Khama told Tonota residents this week that government will not sit back and fold its arms while the multi million Pula bus rank is reduced to a white elephant. The president issued an ultimatum to Tonota bus and taxi operators to use the bus rank or be on the wrong side of the regulations governing their operating permits.
Although the residents were not allowed to vent their anger over its location, when the area MP gave a vote of thanks, they grumbled to the dissatisfaction over the imposed ultimatum because they will have to pay more than what they had bargained when they lobbied government for the construction of a bus rank in their village.
The villagers are unhappy that the rank is not located at a convenient point for most commuters who will be forced to board taxis to their homes after disembarking at the rank. The contractor handed over the rank to the sub-council in March 2010 but it has since been reduced to a white elephant because bus operators prefer to pick commuters inside the village where it is convenient for their customers.
A visibly angry resident said the location is not suitable since some of them will be forced to board taxis en route to the rank which is adjacent to the A1 highway.
“It was supposed to have been built in the centre of the village. The bigger part of the village stretches to the west and all living that side will have to fork out more money to reach their homes. Why the sub-council did not look for a place along the erstwhile routes remains unexplained.
It looks like there has been a deliberate move to enrich the operators without taking into account the circumstances of the users,” said an unidentified elderly man who shouted among the crowd attending the ceremony.
The Director of Road Transport and Safety, Oarabile Mosigi, called on Road Safety and Transport Department in conjunction with the Police to take stern measures against transport operators who violate their permits’ regulations.
“The importance of putting these facilities into use as soon as possible cannot be over-emphasized as they would uplift the livelihoods of small businesses who are supposed to operate the market stalls and emerge as key economic drivers. The non utilization of this facility is unacceptable and we cannot allow it to go to waste,” he said.