, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 7- The government has set up a task force to address the complaints raised by matatu operators on police extortion and harassment.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on Thursday that the task force would take one week to investigate the allegations before presenting its report and recommendations.
Mr Odinga maintained that the government would not relent in bringing sanity to Kenyan roads.
“A team consisting of the Permanent Secretary (PS) Internal Security, PS Transport, PS Local Government and an infrastructure expert from the office of the Prime Minister together with a representative of the Matatu industry will go through the proposals that have been made and the complaints which have been raised and then come up with solutions. We will then have another meeting sometime next week,” he said while underscoring the urgency of resolving the dispute that led to a crippling two-day strike at the beginning of this week.
“The matter is weighty but it does not matter how weighty it is, it must be solved and the government is equal to the task.”
Speaking after meeting representatives from the Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) the Premier added that Kenya would soon have a regulated transport industry once the policy on an integrated transport system (which was approved by Cabinet last year) is passed by Parliament.
“It is in the process of implementation and it is not an issue of the Prime Minister supporting it or not. Once it is a government policy, it will be implemented,” he said.
MWA, which was involved in formulation of the policy, however said operators would require time to adjust to the changes that the policy was proposing; key among them the phasing out of the 14-seater vans.
“The Integrated National Transport Policy is a very rich document with very good proposals but replacing the 14-seater Matatu is a contentious issue which requires an adequate timeline. Brazil, for example, took 10 years before it managed to review its entire transport system. What we are asking for is a five to ten year period because you cannot wake up one night and say from March there won’t be any 14-seaters,” said MWA Chairman Dickson Mbugua.
He proposed that the government sets up a kitty for those who want to continue with the Matatu business in the event that it decided to phase out the 14-seaters.
“Vehicles are expensive and as we talk the cheapest 14-seater vehicle is going for Sh1.4 million. Imagine that kind of money… it is not easily accessible,” said Mr Mbugua.
At the same time, Mr Mbugua attributed the insanity on Kenyan roads to poor training, phony driving schools and an incomprehensible curriculum.
“There is a difference of going to AA, which conducts 35 driving lessons, and those of other private schools, which conduct 15 to 18 lessons,” he said, adding that MWA would call for a meeting with all its regional representatives to discuss the transport issues in the country.