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Kenyan Traffic Bribes: This Well Established Extortion
System Should Now Begin To Operate More Smoothly

Coastweek --  I was in a group last week that was discussing the impact of the change of authority on the roads in the country. It was almost a week after the presidential decree that stopped the National Transport and safety Authority (NTSA) in tracks and put the traffic police back in charge of the roads.

A clergy man, who was in this diverse group that had formed on the sides of a wedding after party, surprised a lot of us when he supported the move in a very unclerical manner.

The man said that he had a lot of experience of the two systems being one who spent most of his time on the road both driving cars and also in charge of motor bikes when ministering to a rural population.

He also used buses to travel in between the various Diocese of the church.

The one big difference according to him was that prior to the NTSA taking over the enforcement duties on roads, the police had developed a very sophisticated system that relied on volume rather than on individual big hits to make money from corruption.

The first was the standard "fines" that matatus had to pay to get the boys in blue in order to avoid the inspection of the vehicle and time waste time.

This was a simple price that ranged from fifty shillings for a boda boda operator or a motorbike rider through to the two hundred shillings per trip for the matatu.

By paying this the matatu saved almost five minutes per trip and this could easily translate into whether one got a passenger or not.

Same for the boda boda operator.

The next level was when a vehicle or motorbike was operating with a known defect.

There was also a standard charge for each defect so that the more defects one vehicle had the more they paid.

These were mainly visible defects such as faulty lights, indicators that did not work, smoking exhausts, balding or bald tyres, missing wing mirrors, expired licenses and worst of all lack of insurance.

Each of these defects had a defined value payable either daily or monthly depending on the seriousness of the defect with the highest being lack of insurance.

The best was the fleet protection charge.

This was when the police colluded with the owner of a whole fleet of public service vehicles so that a single payment at a higher level in the force, whether on a monthly or annual basis, was enough for the senior officer to order all those under him to give free passage to all the vehicles in a fleet belonging to a specific operator.

This was a well developed system that had taken many years to perfect.

It also had middlemen who would broker deals between the cops and the vehicle operators.

Payment methods ranged from literally greasing palms where money was contained in a clenched fist which would be passed in surreptitiously through the use of mobile money or other electronic means to standard banking transactions through various intermediaries so that there would be difficult traceability of the passage of the money.

When the NTSA came on board, they quickly learned that there was an opportunity to also make money and since they were new and supposedly more sophisticated and incorruptible, the transport operators started offering money till some of the staff realised that this was an easy way of making extra cash.

All that they did was that they raised the values of the payments but did not really change the compliance level required for that higher value of payment.

The payment processes also went back to basics with money changing hands either on the roads or via mobile transaction – all easy to discern and punish.

So, the vice continued and the rate of accidents continued.

What took me aback and a lot of the other people in the room was that the clergy man said that he preferred the presence of traditional police instead of the NTSA staff as the cost of passage was cheaper and also the payment methods were simpler and well established.

This for him was better because it lowered the cost of travel and in turn lowered his costs!

Coming from a man of the cloth this was very surprising.

However, on reflection later, it showed how entrenched the whole system of extortion was that even in the revered corridors of the clerical service, some of the members were beginning to accept the evil as a norm and factoring that in their budget.

In a way this illustrates just how entrenched the rot in our road transport system is.

The reality is that the enforcement arm of the NTSA had cops who were from the normal police service.

It is surprising that anyone expected their operations to be any different.

With the removal of the enforcement mandate from the NTSA, the officers who had been seconded have now been returned to their old grazing grounds.

We should expect that the well established extortion systems will now begin to operate more smoothly and that the rate of accidents will increase though the rate of fatal accidents should go down.

What this country needs is a complete overhaul of the traffic police and the NTSA so that we start moving forward.

As Kachumbari says, change doesn’t come easy.
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