HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsEchoes: You can’t clean with dirty hands

Echoes: You can’t clean with dirty hands

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In her 2013 audit report published last week, Comptroller and Auditor-General Mildred Chiri said traffic police were not abiding by any structure when charging spot fines, and some documents detailing how they used the money they collected had been destroyed.

By Conway Tutani

The grossly criminal practice was prevalent countrywide. In all, 5 033 pages of documentation disappeared.

That was two years ago. Nothing has changed. In fact, the racketeering in the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Traffic Section has worsened. It has assumed organised crime proportions. It’s just sickening.

Only last month, High Court judge Justice Francis Bere made these remarks when he opened the Gweru High Court Circuit: “There is no law which compels a motorist to deposit a fine with the police if he desires to challenge the alleged offence. But it looks like the motorists are being forced to pay these fines on our public roads irrespective of their attitude to the charges.”

How is this possible for a public entity to get away with such a scandalous practice in 2015? One would have expected heads to have rolled immediately after the publication of the audit report, but nothing – absolutely nothing – has been done. Is it deliberate structural inertia or selective amnesia – or both? Certainly a combination of both.

Selective amnesia is simply when an individual willingly neglects to “remember” any given situation, much like the selective listener willingly chooses what he/she hears. People tend to develop selective amnesia when questioned about their transgressions.

The public has been groaning and moaning about extortion by the traffic police for years, but the ZRP has chosen not to hear because there is something in it for them: Unaccounted and unlimited inflow of money. They have created a protective bubble around themselves.

To add insult to injury, there has been structural inertia. The government has not only been indifferent, but dismissive of the people’s grievances, thus giving the traffic police the clearest signal to carry on with their extortionate ways.

This is because key decision makers – in this case, the government – purposely endorse structural inertia, deliberate inaction when drastic change is clearly called for.

The structural status quo is intentionally selected. Structural inertia is chosen regardless of pressures for and expectations of more fundamental change from the people.

That is why traffic police are still on the roads despite the public outcry. You may shout and scream, but the message is that they are going nowhere.

The endorsement is deliberate and underscores the influence of the decision makers. Decision makers delineate, defend and legitimise the status quo.

That is exactly what Information minister Jonathan Moyo did last month when he attacked Justice Bere on the flimsy grounds that the judge “seriously misdirected himself in light of the fact that there is a very clear 2012 High Court judgment that specifically upheld and confirmed the legality of ZRP spot fines”.

This smacks of the deliberate inertia that we are talking about. For the minister’s information, in the United States during the fight for civil rights in the 1960s, there emerged activist judges who refused to endorse the legality of racial segregation against blacks.

On the other hand, racist Rhodesia had its own “hanging judges” who sentenced captured freedom fighters to death by hanging without taking into the slightest account the patently unjust system which had driven them to take up arms in the first place – and the Rhodesian judges based that on legality. This shows the vacuity of Moyo’s stance in defence of the status quo.

Last week, in a hard-hitting report, the United States Justice Department accused the authorities in the city of Ferguson of using local police to generate revenue instead of safeguarding citizens, a practice the investigators said fell heaviest on African-Americans.

The Justice Department probe began after unrest in the wake of a Ferguson police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, 18, in August last year. US Attorney-General Eric Holder said the tensions between law enforcement and residents that erupted after the killing of Brown, an unarmed black teenager, were unsurprising given the “toxic” environment created by the biases of the Ferguson Police Department.

The report detailed the ways in which the police created fear and resentment among African-American residents by disproportionately targeting them with fines, tickets and excessive force. Well, this is being played out daily on Zimbabwe’s roads.

The corrupt cops do not look at ordinary Zimbabweans as equal human beings. They look at people as their personal bank account. They must stop treating suffering people like cash cows because resentment is growing.

Despite Moyo’s apologetics, people know what’s really going on. Corruption, no matter your political ideology, is not defensible. You don’t clothe corruption in lousy propaganda that uses obvious terminology that everyone can see through.

We will not be bogged down in quibbling over minor detail or dwell on an inaccuracy here and there, majoring in minors when the clear, bigger, screaming picture is that the ZRP Traffic Section is colossally corrupt. They are like robbers intercepting a bank cash van.

How can someone like Moyo be so capable of seeing wrongness in one situation, yet not be able to see it in another when the evidence is so overwhelming?

Did he miss the veiled point made by Justice Bere that the laws are somewhat weak – whether intentionally or not – and the burden of proof so high that actually prosecuting such crimes is rather difficult except in the most clear cases? We need fair-minded people at the top to fire these economic saboteurs, throw them in jail and throw away the keys!

Said Holder: “We are prepared to use all the powers we have to ensure the situation changes in Ferguson. If dismantling is what is necessary, we are prepared to do that.”

It’s time to completely dismantle the ZRP Traffic Section – but can one realistically expect this tainted government to bite the bullet?
Well, you can’t get something clean when your hands are dirty.
ctutani@newsday.co.zw

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