By Anjoya Mwanza
Nkhotakota District Council is losing revenue following a decision by minibus owners in the district to abandon its bus depot in protest of a court decision to release a taxi which was impounded for picking customers in undesignated points.
The boycott started on October 23, 2018 when Nkhotakota Minibus Owners Association ordered all passenger carrying vehicles operating along M5 lake shore Salima-Nkhatabay road to stop using the bus depot.
Secretary for the Association, Rasheed Ausi said a taxi Probox registration number MJ 9809, belonging to a retired police officer, Dickson Chirwa was caught picking customers outside the bus depot on September 24, 2018.
He said members of the Association confronted the owner to pay K20 000 fine which would be split between the association, the Council and Police.
“The District Council empowered us to help ensure that minibus operators are picking passengers from the depot only. So, we agreed that anyone found picking customers outside the depot would be liable to a fine of K20 000 where K10 000 goes to Police while the council and the association get K5 000 each.
“To our surprise, the owner of the vehicle failed to pay the fine hence we surrendered the car to police so that they keep it safe since we have no mandate to keep someone’s vehicle. Three weeks elapsed but Chirwa did not pay the fine, in the third week, he summoned the association to court for loss in business,” Ausi said.
The Secretary explained that the Magistrate ordered the association to pay the complainant K900 000 as compensation because he claimed that he makes K30 000 per month and his vehicle stayed out of business for 30 days.
He said that Nkhotakota minibus association comprises of all passenger carrying vehicles including taxis and big buses.
“We are now discussing the way forward with the council but let me emphasize that we will never go back to the bus depot unless the magistrate reverses his judgement and addresses the minibus owners and association in person that he made a wrong judgement,” Ausi said.
But Nkhotakota First Grade Magistrate (FGM), Fred Juma Chilowetsa told this reporter during interview that he never passed judgement on this issue.
He said that he only had court hearing which upon seeing the nature of the matter adjourned the case and it was preceded in a chamber from the open court.
“Actually, I am waiting for the association to come forward with legal documents which they use so that the court refers to them before judgement. However, what I have discovered is that the council has no bylaws to govern their actions.
“I emphasized that the association should have legal mandate which gives them authority over their actions. It is high time everyone started respecting the rule of law in Malawi,” the Magistrate said, adding that it was not easy to make a judgement because the Association failed to charge the complainant before court.
However, a owner of the taxi, Boniface Chirwa said he is waiting for his compensation from the Association
He wondered why the association had to penalise him when his vehicle was a taxi.
Chirwa maintained that his vehicle carried six passengers on hire.
Acting District Commissioner, Greystone Alindiamawo said it was unfortunate that all these issues are coming because of misunderstandings.
He lamented that the council is losing a lot of money due to the boycott.
“Besides, the trading centre needs to look in order. Passengers were protected and happy because they knew that they had to go to the bus depot to catch a bus but now all that is history,” Alindiamawo said while emphasizing that he would organise a meeting with the association and the court officials.
Burton Bandawe who is in-charge of collecting gate depot fees said the district accumulates about K40 000 daily, meaning that the Council had lost about half a million Kwacha by Friday November 2, 2018. This shows that the council is expected to lose more if the Minibus Owne