By Hanipher Namuwonge
Transport from Masaka to Kampala was paralyzed following a strike by taxi operators who protested against hiked loading and offloading fees.
They parked their vehicles Tuesday at the Masaka district headquarters demanding to meet the municipal town clerk and the LC5 chairperson Joseph Kalungi, angry that the loading fees had been raised from sh4,000 to sh7,000.
The drivers accused their managers of not only cheating them but also hastily increasing the fees without notifying them.
Many passengers were left stranded as the strikers vowed they would not pay the fees.
Under their umbrella body Masaka United Taxi Drivers and Cooperative Society, the drivers caused chaos when they stormed the district headquarters led by their chairperson George Kiberu.
They charged to the offices wielding machetes and clashed, ironically, with drivers of Nateete Stage under the Tuli Bumu group who were also protesting the hiked fees.
They were turned away by law enforcement officers who advised them to settle their grievances at the Masaka Municipal town clerk offices.
The Tuli Bumu group, led by Tom Makubuya, accused the managers of Masaka United Taxi Drivers and Cooperative Society (MUTODOCS) of coming up with figures without consulting them.
They pointed to mistreatment and illegal impounding of their vehicles and vowed not to pay the fees until the municipal comes out with a clear solution to the problem.
Army personnel restoring order at Saza headquarters. PHOTO/Hannipher Namuwonge
DPC Henry Kavuma trying to block the protesting taxi operators at SazPHOTO/Hannipher Namuwonge
Fred Mukasa, a driver at Kibuye stage, demanded to know why the park managers had hiked the fees without consulting the drivers, saying they (operators) are the key stakeholders and are the ones affected directly.
He referred to the new fees as “exorbitant”
Another driver accused the park managers of trying to cheat them, arguing that that buses that carry more passengers are not affected since they pay the same money as taxis.
Following the strike, crisis security meetings were held and chaired by Maxwel Ogwal the Greater Masaka Regional Police Commander but they later referred the matter to the municipal administration, saying that it was beyond their jurisdiction.
Ogwal advised the drivers to settle their grievances amicably instead of resorting to strikes.
Many of the protesters were left disappointed, saying they have not got a tangible solution to their problem(s) and vowed not to pay any fee to the managers until their grievances are addressed.
In 2010, Masaka United Drivers Cooperative Society was entrusted to take over the Masaka Taxi Park by President Yoweri Museveni when the president suspended the tendering system but since then, many people have been challenging the procedure.
Peter Ntege, the manager of Batata Company Limited that had won the tender to operate in this contested taxi park, decided to drag Masaka Municipal Council to court seeking to have the system denounced.