TRANSPORT and Communications Minister Mutotwe Kafwaya says bus stations do not belong to the ruling Patriotic Front because they are properties of the councils.

And the Bus and Taxi Owners Association on the Copperbelt and Public Service Vehicle (PSV) drivers have complained that cadres continue to intimidate and overcharge them for loading their buses in public stations even after President Edgar Lungu issued a directive to remove political party cadres from the stations.

An unidentified representative of bus owners and drivers from Ndola complained when they met Kafwaya, Wednesday, that PF cadres were simply too powerful and only bus operators with connections in government were safe from harassment.

“The issue of cadres in the stations, you know sometimes why we keep quiet is because we don’t want to be identified tomorrow that ‘you are the one who spoke so much in that meeting so your buses won’t load’. But this is what is happening, we are not free to speak. Cadres are still in the bus stations even after the President issued a directive to have them removed. Maybe after the meeting, I will give you the figures of how much we pay for a bus to load. The last time I raised this issue, they (cadres) told me ‘we will call the commander right now in Lusaka and your buses won’t load’. But fortunately, I also communicated with honourable Freedom Sikazwe who helped me with the situation. But we can’t keep on using powers that be to survive in this industry,” he complained.

He also complained that unregistered buses had kicked a lot of public bus operators out of the business and that it would kill the industry if not addressed.

“Pirating is an illegality and it should not be condoned. I would have expected that members present would have hit the nail on the head but they are going round the issues. So when I say piracy, we run businesses and we belong to the council, our investments are big but our returns are minimal. I run big buses, I would run a distance of 1,000 kilometers to and another 1,000 kilometers back to come and receive K500. I have used K1,000 for fuel just to make a trip to that destination and back and why? Because piracy is at play. I feel for the local operators because that is also affecting them. If I tell you that a bus takes a month to go from Ndola to Kitwe, you might not believe me, but it’s true, buses load once a month. This is the scenario we are in. But if government could deal with it, then it would greatly help,” the representative said.

“For us, we feel like boycotting the public sitting this year regardless of whatever plans the ministry has got. We have been talking for the last 20 years about piracy and you cannot tell me that again, you are going to look into it. You will be dissolved and another minister will also be looking into it, no! Be action-oriented, we are complaining here, we are failing under your ministry and we expect results immediately; you have heard what we’ve got to say, by next week, some action must be taken. It is easy to issue an SI to bring a certain law but to issue an SI to bring a law that is going to protect us, it takes procedure. I think honourable minister, we have been treated like kids in this industry.”

Meanwhile, the representative appealed to government to set aside some funds to empower public transporters as a way of boosting their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have seen youths being empowered with buses since COVID came, marketeers have been given funds, what about us? Honourable minister, you mustn’t forget that we are the biggest employer in the informal sector. You can’t run away from that fact, yet we don’t benefit even the cram that comes from government. So from these funds that have come, we are expecting that we may also benefit, the people we carry are our customers, we must also look after their lives, but we can’t get anything from the government,” said the representative.

And a representative from Chingola identified as Mwenya wondered what kind of a pro-poor government PF was if did not have the interest of people like them at heart.

“We have seen political parties having security wings, very soon you will hear that us in the transport sector have also found security wings to manage the streets. You are enticing us to become unruly, you are testing us, you are pushing us to the edge. We are soon going to be unruly, not because that’s our nature or desire to become unruly but because the situation is not allowing us to behave ourselves. We don’t know if you people [in government] are there to help us or to kill us, which pro poor [government] are you?” asked Mwenya.

In response, Kafwaya explained that councils were the ones in charge of the bus stations and that cadres had no place there.

“The President doesn’t want this. He’s very clear, he doesn’t want interference. Stations are not for cadres, even you the bus owners and the drivers, those are not your stations. Those stations are for the councils, so if they are for the council, they cannot be for PF because the council is not PF. So councils must find their spot in the bus stops because they are the owners of those places. Our sector only goes there to work. Otherwise, sanitation and all those things is not our business. But since we are one government, I will tell the story to Dr Charles Banda that I have received information that cadres are still interfering with the running of bus stops,” said Kafwaya who also promised to work with his colleagues in government to address concerns of transport sector players.