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Illegal commercial drivers’ strike against ‘police harassment’ paralyses Sierra Leone’s public transport

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Sierra Leone’s Transport Minister has described a strike action by commercial motor vehicle drivers as illegal and called for an immediate end to it.

Commuters in Freetown on Monday, 4 March 2019, woke up to a surprise strike action by drivers of Poda Poda (commercial vans) and buses who said they were protesting a long running trend of police harassment and intimidation.

However, Kabineh Kallon, Minister of Transport and Aviation, said the organizers of the strike failed to respect existing protocols governing industrial actions, citing in particular the 21-day notice to the government before any strike action can be taken.

Kallon spoke at an emergency meeting convened to discuss the drivers’ strike which paralysed public transportation for the better part of the day.

He said the strike action gave a bad image of the country.

The Poda Poda and Bus Drivers’ Association, which conducted the strike, is a section of the umbrella General Transport and Motor Drivers’ Union, which is currently in disarray over corruption allegations facing its leadership.

Among other concerns, the striking drivers say they don’t know the limit of fines levied on them by traffic warders.

They say they are also concerned about the behaviour of off-duty police officers who indiscriminately arrest their members unlawfully.

Mohamed Waritay, President and Chairman of the Poda Poda and Bus Drivers’ Association, catalogued their concerns at the meeting convened by the government.

Mr Waritay said the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA), which is in charge of the Traffic Wardens, has suddenly increased its fines for traffic offenses from Le30, 000
to Le500, 000.

This, he lamented, is exorbitant.

He also said that off-duty police officers were in the habit of coming into the street to
harass drivers.

“But the main issue we have is with the Traffic Warden, they arrest us for metal seats and we cannot afford to import original seats,” he said.

According to SLRSA and road safety experts, metal seats are a major contributing factor to the high rates of deaths during road accidents in Sierra Leone.

Almost all Poda Podas vehicles in the country are notoriously fitted with this form of seat, which are often so tight that passengers barely fit in.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest death rates from road accidents in the world.  Poda Poda drivers say they cannot afford to import original seats adding that they, together with the Road Safety Authority, had designed a particular kind of seat which hasn’t prevented them from harassments.

– APA

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