Stop uniformed robbers


THE number of roadblocks and policemen on the roads is just not acceptable for a country that is not at war (at least we hope the police are not at war with us citizens) and some of the actions of the traffic policemen are reminiscent of the actions of the legendary highway robbers that terrorised residents of Victorian England.

Today motorists and passengers in Zimbabwe are not terrorised by masked robbers armed with swords or rifles but uniformed and at times uninformed police officers who are more common than traffic lights. Some places such as 12th avenue and Hillside in Bulawayo now have permanent roadblocks manned by at least four government departments including the local municipality.

While it is acceptable that the police have to carry out their constitutional mandate of maintaining law and order the roads, the Zimbabwean scenario is now just unacceptable and tantamount to modern day highway robbery carried out in the guise of enforcing traffic regulations while actually siphoning increasingly poor motorists with endless spot fines.

Actions of the police have attracted the  attention of senior public officials such as judge Justice Francis Bere and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangwagwa who have spoken out against this expression of obscenity by a component of State apparatus which is supposed to be the depository of public confidence and security.

In his address to the 2015 Masvingo legal year Justice Bere described the practise of spot fines and confiscation of vehicles (popularly called confiscation by police officers) as illegal citing section 356 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.

Quite clearly the police now see cash-strapped and stressed motorists as a source of revenue to finance either activities of the police or to line pockets of  a cabal of corrupt police officers  while milking the fiscus of much needed revenue.

The practise of spot fines, administratively noble, is not sufficiently legal as it has occasioned the official abuse of Zimbabweans who are subjected to endless roadblocks and fines.

It is actually an open secret that some motorists have resorted to bribe their way through roadblocks and in essence roadblocks have become the seedbed of corruption.

The public has a right to know how much of these spot fines are collected every month and whether or not they are deposited into the Consolidated Revenue Fund as espoused in section 302 of the Zimbabwean Constitution which states: There is a Consolidated Revenue Fund into which must be paid all fees, taxes and borrowings and all other revenue of the government whatever their source, unless an Act of Parliament provides otherwise.

The scourge of corruption has made the practise of spot fines at variance with norms of good Financial management which  should be provided for in section 298 (d) of the Zimbabwean Constitution.

It is in this context that I propose that the police should embark upon a programme of educating motorists about various laws governing  them including, but not limited to the Vehicle Registration and Licensing Act, the Road Traffic Act and relevant statutory instruments.

The current ambush antics of the police who are quick to quote sections of the law to clueless  motorists is not acceptable in a modern democracy.

In this age of the Internet it should be possible for the police to have interactive Facebook and Twitter accounts to share such information or even use applications such as WhatsApp to inform the motoring public about their obligations.

I propose that the auditor-general carry out an audit of Zimbabwe Republic Police specifically focussing on spot fines as a revenue collecting tool vis a vis good corporate governance.

In the long term police should consider investing in cameras and other surveillance equipment as in the case in other countries.
This will increase efficiency and reduce corruption on the roads.

The development of a virtual electronic system that can track deviant motorists should be in the 10-year strategy plan of the police to ensure technologically-compliant policing.

In short there are just too many roadblocks in Zimbabwe and too many traffic policemen and this has become outright harassment of ordinary citizens.

Dumisani Nkomo is an activist, social entrepreneur and chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust. He writes in his personal capacity.