There are signs the police-led drink driving crackdown is slipping into negative territory, with President Museveni becoming its harshest critic. The president is particularly angered that the police crackdown has degenerated into a binge for the police to extort money from the public. The police introduced the operations, late last year, in a move aimed at curbing traffic accidents. But concerns were raised when the police literally changed the law to incriminate anyone driving with the slightest trace of alcohol in their blood.
The Observer has learnt that the president voiced his frustrations at a recent meeting with senior police officers. Without denying or confirming the president's concerns, the Commissioner for Traffic and Road Safety, Dr Stephen Kasiima, turned on the media for failing the operation.
"You [media] are just bent on spoiling people's jobs," said Kasiima and declined to speak further. When contacted, Kampala Metropolitan traffic chief Lawrence Niwabiine, just hung up.
A senior police officer, who preferred not to be named, told this writer that the president was upset at the way police had abused the operation by extorting money from motorists. A similar operation to arrest marauding thugs in Kampala and its suburbs was stopped by police over similar concerns of abuse and extortion by some police officials. The source said the president first lambasted police officials, shortly after passing out more than 5,000 police constables at Kabalye police training school in Masindi district early this month.
"He even ordered for a reshuffle in the traffic department of the police force," the source said. The president is also reported to have narrated how one day, while on a trip to eastern Uganda, he found traffic officers who stopped several vehicles and in less than five minutes they let them go.
"He wondered how traffic officers can check five cars in less than five minutes," a source said.
Several industry stakeholders, ranging from brewers, nightclubs and bar owners have attacked the operations, after they watched their sales drop. The Observer was also told that beer companies had complained to both the Finance ministry and President Museveni about the operations, although this information could not be independently verified by press time. The proprietor of Amnesia club in Kampala, Dr Innocent Nahabwe, admitted that the drink driving operation was affecting his business negatively.
"Alcohol contributes greatly to the economy in direct and indirect taxes, but our sales are going down due to the drink driving operation," he said. "The crackdown is just meant to embarrass everyone who drinks."
Nile Breweries Corporate Affairs Director, Francis Onapito Ekomoloit, said though they supported the operation, it was being abused by the police.
"It is within our policy of not driving under the influence of alcohol, but we are against the way police inhumanely handles the suspects; extorting money, manhandling and even parading them before cameras and the press," he said.
Asked if the operation had affected the beer sales, Onapito said: "We have not quantified the loss in terms of sales, but definitely it has an effect".
Putting suspects on camera, Onapito says, violates a person's constitutional right of being innocent till proven guilty. He said the operation had become a show of some sort.
"We are in a dialogue with police to enforce the law but in a decent way," Onapito said. "Alcohol is not a problem; it has been around for centuries. The only problem is the abuse."