COMMUTERS who use the public transport system have lost faith in the country’s police at roadblocks, as these have literally been reduced to mere “tollgates” rather than checkpoints where a vehicle’s road worthiness is tested and corrective measures taken.
BY SENIOR FEATURES REPORTER
In the past few years, police have increased their presence on the country’s highways and city roads, but traffic accidents – many of them fatal – have continued to spike.
Commuters who spoke to NewsDay said they were worried that roadblocks no longer served their purposes and accused the police of using the blockades to raise money particularly from public transport operators.
Maxwell Singano from Chitungwiza said he had observed that when police officers manning a roadblock flagged down a commuter omnibus, the driver would stop several metres away from the police and then run back to the officers, returns almost immediately and drives off.
“It’s very rare to see a police officer coming to check the vehicle. But everyone in the kombi can actually see money changing hands,” he said.
“Then when that vehicle is eventually involved in an accident, you hear the police saying the commuter omnibus had no relevant papers or the driver was unlicensed.”
Taurai Marova of Sunningdale said it was strange that police officers manning roadblocks hardly impounded vehicles with defects and that was an indication that palms would have been greased.
He argued that the police were empowered by the law to impound defective vehicles and if they had been doing that, then most of the kombis would be off the roads until the owners attended to the defects.
“Clearly, if a vehicle is defective it must be impounded,” he said. “Does paying a fine or a bribe at a roadblock rectify the defects?”
Sometime last year, it was reported that Zimbabwe Republic Police traffic officers had devised a new system to avoid being caught with bribe money by their superiors through reportedly working in cahoots with some kombi crews and taxi drivers who will pass on the loot to them after duty.
Investigations by NewsDay have shown that police officers manning roadblocks in and around Harare had also roped in airtime and newspaper vendors operating within their vicinity to keep safe money clandestinely collected from errant kombi crews in case their bosses pounce on them.
In separate interviews, kombi drivers confirmed that some of them had found “employment” with the police for keeping their money in return for being allowed to pass freely at roadblocks.
“There are drivers who work with the police and they benefit a lot from keeping the money police get from motorists. If you watch closely at roadblocks, there is always a kombi parked nearby as if the police are dealing with the driver yet the driver will be waiting to receive money for safekeeping,” one of the drivers said.
“These days, you don’t give cash directly to the policemen. They tell you to go and give it to the kombi driver or conductor parked nearby and they record who would have received what, then reconcile after work and share.”
Kombi drivers pay at least $5 to pass through a roadblock.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba however said those with information regarding such tactics should report to the police as the force was against any form of corruption.
“We have said our investigations are open and all those with information can come forward and we investigate further. You can bring your sources forward and we investigate such cases if they are real,” she said.
The ZRP has declared zero tolerance on corruption, but on the ground, several members have been arrested for soliciting bribes by of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc).
The latest change of tactic by the police follows a tough stance by the ZRP in dealing with members found in possession of undeclared cash.
In March this year, there were reports that commuter omnibus operators in Bulawayo withdrew their services for two days in protest over “endless” roadblocks.
Transport operators said traffic police were pushing them out of business by demanding bribes and spot fines of up to $20 per roadblock as early as 06:30 hours, before they had even made any meaningful collections.
“The situation is no longer favourable. We cannot continue to be paying about $40 to $60 per day to police on spot fines. At the end of day, it will be pointless to keep our vehicles on the road only to make loses,” Tshova Mubaiwa Transport Association chairperson, Samson Mabunda, was quoted saying.
“These roadblocks are just too many, for instance along Plumtree Road alone, you find three to four road blocks, each of them demanding $20 per roadblock because at the next roadblock they will tell you that they also have to issue you with their own ticket.”
In 2011, an undisclosed number of traffic police cops have been fired from work with immediate effect while a total of 21 others were suspended from the force on allegations of corruption which included the taking of bribes.
The then national traffic police spokesperson Inspector Tigere Chigome said those suspended were going to be charged under the Police Act and the Criminal Law Codification Act.
The offences range from fraud and soliciting for bribes to demanding material things from motorists and members of public.
“It is a fact that corruption is rampant everywhere and as law enforcement agents we cannot watch while some of our members go against the law. We have to remove bad apples from the organisation.