Home » Arts & Culture » ’Spot Fines Fuel Corruption’ [interview]

In light of the escalating cat-and-mouse games between police and commuter omnibus crews in Harare’s CBD, which have turned tragic at times, kombi owners have spoken out on what they think needs to be done to restore sanity to the streets. Senior Features Writer Tichaona Zindoga (TZ) spoke to Mr Ngoni Katsvairo (NK), secretary-general of Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators, which represents 1 000 kombi owners. The following are excerpts.

TZ: What do you think is the reason for the escalation of the war between kombi crews and police in the CBD?

NK: I think the major issue is that we have got two types of operators from our side those who comply with all the rules and regulations that are required before you put your kombi on the road, and those who don’t. We also have the issue of touts. It was dealt with before but those people have re-emerged and they are the ones running ranks at undesignated points. They even take kombis from the ranks and load them on the streets for a fee.

So when that chaos is created you will also find that corruption thrives because there is a conducive environment for operators to be corrupt and also for bad apples in the police to be corrupt.

We need to deal with the issue holistically because corruption needs everybody’s efforts to be eradicated or reduced.

TZ: Do you think the police are winning the war against touts and, as you say, unscrupulous kombi operators?

NK: I think there are g measures that need to be taken against unscrupulous kombi operators, unscrupulous drivers and the touts because that’s where the problem is centred.

When I don’t have documents or the driver goes to an undesignated place, that’s where the problem is. That’s where people are hit by vehicles because every time the driver is loading his vehicle, he is always on the lookout for police because he knows that he will be loading from an unauthorised place.

But, above all, you will find that even the ranks where the kombi is supposed to be loading, there is not enough space. We also have a problem with the city council’s licensing.

I recently acquired a licence for my vehicle to ply the City-Epworth route. My licence number is 6300, which means that they are 6 300 vehicles in Harare that are officially registered.

So maybe they are another 4 000 to 5 000 that don’t have documents.

But we only have four ranks in town and these ranks have been there since the deregulation of the transporter sector in the mid-1990s. So those ranks have become insufficient.

We were talking of a population of about 300 000 for Harare, or 500 000, less than a million but now it’s over two million so that population which has risen has seen a corresponding growth of the vehicle population.

Since the ranks are not enough all those vehicles you are now finding them on the streets and most of those vehicles that you find on the streets are the ones that do not have papers and they would rather not use the ranks.

TZ: As an organisation, what is your assessment of the calibre of your drivers?

NK: Some of these drivers are to blame because some employers do not properly vet drivers and we have some of our operators employing under-age drivers – who are below 25 years old.

Then the issue of touts as well, it comes in.

We have a situation whereby a driver gives the vehicle to another person who then does these mischievous things on the streets.

So the kind of drivers that we are having, some of them – if not most of them – are not up to scratch with what is required and we have presented the issues to the Ministry of Transport and they are working on it.

We agree that for there to be safety on our roads, we need to have experienced drivers. That’s why we agree with the issue of a (public transport) driver being 25 years old, having five years’ experience and being medically fit having been examined by a Government medical doctor.

The issue of going for a retest after five years is not enough.

TZ: The other issue on kombis is that of drug abuse. What have you observed and what can be done about it?

NK: As I have alluded before, it is the issue of touts. We see them openly drinking in ranks, in streets but they are the same persons who are given vehicles by some of our unscrupulous drivers.

So for sure there is an element of drug abuse within our streets and within the ranks. The issue of touts needs to be dealt with once and for all. We know it was dealt with before but the people have come back again they are the same people who are connected to some of the police officers as they can collect money from non-compliant kombi operators and drivers and pass it on to police officers on the roads, giving a list of kombis that have paid and those that have not paid and then the whole sequence goes like that.

Once that has happened we find that these vehicles that don’t have enough papers are finding their way into the CBD yet they should be stopped before they get into the CBD to cause chaos.

We need to work with the police to ensure that all the vehicles that do not have requisite papers are weeded out.

TZ: Talking about corruption, what do you think should be done to address this scourge?

NK: As I said before, we have two types of kombi operators: we have those who comply and those who don’t comply. If I am not complying how am I operating? It means I am paying my way to operate.

We are encouraging all operators to be compliant. First and foremost to fight corruption we have to be compliant. If you are not compliant then you are corrupt.

The same also applies for the police, they should enforce the rules as they are. If they are not enforcing it means they are corrupt because they are the ones who are supposed to be weeding out those vehicles without relevant papers.

This must also apply to drivers who do not have relevant papers. It takes two to tango.

TZ: Another concern is that of overloading as kombis are capacitated to carry 14 or 15 passengers but operators put extra seats. What is your comment on that?

NK: Despite all the roadblocks, why are those kombis with 18 passengers allowed to pass through? Why are those operators allowing their drivers to overload? It’s because somewhere, somehow, something is happening. The police should enforce compliance as per the regulations.

When we have five roadblocks they should ensure that a vehicle with excess passengers should not pass until it drops off the excess number.

TZ: Do you think time is now ripe for a change in tactics by the police?

NK: The case of the child who was knocked down by a kombi that was fleeing police makes a g case for a change of tactics. Maybe it will help if we have video evidence of vehicles which operate at undesignated places and ensure that they are charged in a court of law.

The current system of fines, which can be as low as US$10, is not deterrent enough as the kombi crews will always return. There is need to properly punish repeat offenders.

At one point we had to go to Parliament to ask for such a change of laws.

If you look at it, when a vehicle operating illegally gets towed away by council, it is the kombi owner that pays US$132 in penalties and the driver goes unpunished. The driver needs to be incarcerated so that tomorrow he will not do it again.

If I, as an operator, ask him to go to these places they call “mushikashika”, the driver should have the right to refuse because he knows that if he is caught there he will be jailed.

On the other hand, we also need to find ways of funding police operations as spot fines are serving to encourage corruption.

We would rather have a Policing Levy collected by, say, Zinara on behalf of police instead of paying fines which are sometimes resulting in abuse.

Source : The Herald