24 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Traffic Police Use Codes to Extract Bribes

Photo: Herald

EFFORTS by police to combat corruption among its ranks seem to be coming to nought.

The corrupt officers are moving fast, devising complicated ways of extracting bribe-money from motorists to avoid being caught.

Before my recent experiences, I had a negative perception of kombi crews.

I viewed them as a harsh, rough and arrogant bunch.

But when I later learnt how they are extorted of their hard-earned cash on a daily basis by traffic cops, I became bitter on their behalf.

Last week, I took time and embarked on a mission to observe how traffic police dealt with the kombi crews.

My first trip was to Norton.

I boarded a Toyota Hiace in Harare's central business district (CBD) and less than two kilometres away at the Showgrounds, the police waved for us to stop but as the driver slowed down, the officer instructed him to proceed.

Being a man on a mission, I asked the driver why the officer had told him to proceed.

"These officers deal with local kombis whose destinations are Belvedere, Kuwadzana, Warren Park and so on," replied the driver.

I did not bother myself asking for more details as I realised that the police had divided the kombis among themselves, classifying them under two broad categories.

There are those that target kombis plying local routes and another group that handles those driving out of the capital.

I also realised that the police have information on every commuter omnibus; that is, its owner and the route it plies.

There was another roadblock about 20 kilometres out of the city centre.

This time the driver stopped voluntarily without being ordered to do so. The police did not even bother to come and check his vehicle.

They remained glued to their positions.

With the keenness of an eagle scrounging for prey from high above, I watched the proceedings carefully.

The driver took out an old tattered route permit from the dashboard and placed a US$5 note between the folded permit and dashed to the officer who stood by the roadside holding a receipt book.

The driver handed over the permit to the officer who "carefully" opened it.

In no time, the driver was back.

"This is a new team and they need their 'tollgate' fees," said the driver. "The first team has gone, maybe they have ended their shift. But it is over now; we have registered and no more hassles till evening."

True to his word, the return trip was smooth.

He was stopped and instructed to proceed without any scrutiny.

Wanting to probe more, I proceeded to Mabvuku in a bid to confirm my earlier findings.

This is where I got startling revelations.

Kombi crews said police officers on roadblocks divided the kombi crews into groups of five.

Each group has its leader, who collects US$5 or US$10 every morning and surrenders it to an officer at a roadblock.

The kombi driver, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, said the group leader would leave the registration number with the officers -- these are often described as "codes".

"Those you find with either a Mercedes Benz or a BMW at roadblocks, such as the one near Mabvuku turn-off, group us into five, before demanding money," said the driver who plies that route. "But after paying that money you can operate freely the whole day."

I concluded my mission with a journey to Marondera.

The crew told me money collected on their first morning trip was for the police and for fuel.

The highway has two major roadblocks which are manned by a minimum of four police officers.

"When coming from Marondera, I know I have to set aside US$15 for the two roadblocks. Police at the first roadblock at the 'tollgate' before or after Ruwa demand US$10 while the others at Zimre Park turn off want US$5," said another driver.

"At Zimre Park turn off, they demand US$5 because they know that their fellow officers at the tollgate would have taken something from us.

It costs US$2 to travel from Harare to Marondera, which means the crew gets US$36 for an 18-seater vehicle.

"Fuel costs US$15 and then we set aside US$15 for the roadblocks. This means we will be left with US$6 and automatically the trip is for nothing else but to pay them."

After paying, the crew leave codes, which they use later as they pass through the same check point.

At the Zimre Park turn off, the conductor simply told the officer "blue" and read out the first letters on his vehicle registration number before he was allowed to proceed.

"So whenever I pass through, I just shout my code and they confirm whether I have paid the 'toll' fees or not," he said.

I was shocked to learn how the police officers at roadblocks have come up with such tactics to rip off the government and individuals for their personal benefit.

What I witnessed and heard flies in the efforts of Police Commissioner General, Augustine Chihuri who vowed to fight corruption among the police rank and file.

It appears his efforts are coming to nought.

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