THE police must stop demanding bribes from tourists as that negatively impacts on the image of the country.
This was said by the ministry of Tourism permanent secretary Monaphathi Maraka at a recently held Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) tourism sensitisation workshop. The workshop was held on 27 July 2018 at the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village.
The seminar was held for different police stations from the Maseru and Thaba Tseka districts which make up the country's central region.
Mr Maraka said the practice of demanding bribes from tourists damages the tourism industry. He said instead the police have to offer tourists security instead of robbing them through demanding bribes.
"The police play a major role in tourism and their mere presence makes the guests feel safe and relaxed," Mr Maraka said.
"However, if the same people start robbing tourists by demanding bribes especially at road blocks, the tourists have no other option but not to ever visit us again.
"The government has selected tourism as one of the key sectors that can drive our economy therefore we have to capacitate all stakeholders to boost the industry.
"The police on the other hand are the first people whom the tourists expect to welcome them with a smile at our borders and further assist them with security. We have to work together for the betterment of our country."
Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) chief executive officer, Mpaiphele Maqutu, due to technological advancements, a negative report can be sent out instantly by unhappy tourists. He said the negative reports on social media hurt the country.
"Tourists consider security first before they visit the country even though it there may be beautiful attractions. If the tourists are treated badly they simply opt for alternative destinations next time," Mr Maqutu said.
He said there was also stiff competition for tourists by other countries so it was prudent that the country offers the best hospitality.
Mr Maqutu said it was also crucial that the various stakeholders of the industry collaborate to root out corruption.
"We all have children and relatives who can benefit through jobs that can be created through tourism and it is up to us to promote tourism through the good services that we offer our guests."
Similar workshops have also been held for police officers from the northern and southern regions and Mr Maqutu said the response has been positive.
LTDC public relations manager 'Manchafalo Motṧoeneng said the police officers should act as tourism ambassadors as one of the key stakeholders who should create rapport with visitors.
She said other common problems faced by tourists include the language barrier between them and the locals, harassment by boarder staff and communities and delayed investigations whenever crimes are reported.
"There are several complaints from tourists who say that some children beg for goodies and when they fail to get them they pelt them with stones at their cars.
"Complaints have also been registered about herd boys who reportedly pull down signages to put on their kraals and tourists end up get lost. A significant number have even gone to the extent of saying they want to practise chobeliso on some of the female tourists," Ms Motṧoeneng said.
Chobeliso is a practice of forcibly marrying a girl or woman. Often the victim is raped immediately to deter her from returning to her family. The practice is however, outlawed in the country although several communities still practise it.
For his part, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Hlalele Rampai who is in charge of the central region did not refute the allegations and said he was also a victim to one of the unscrupulous officers.
Although he did not elaborate on the incident, he said on the day he was driving a vehicle with a foreign registration when the officer demanded a bribe.
ACP Rampai however, said the officers gained vital information from the seminar and would do their best to build a reputable image of the LMPS for the betterment of the country.
"Each time officers see a foreign number plate they see an opportunity to earn a quick buck. However, there are several officers who have been dismissed for demanding bribes.
"It is also important to learn about our tourist destinations so that we are able to effectively assist tourists. It is through working together with the LTDC that we will help boost tourism in Lesotho," ACP Rampai said.