HARARE – Traffic police officers manning the country’s roads have devised a sinister plot to “milk” kombi drivers and motorists of their hard-earned cash for free passage on numerous roadblocks mounted across the country’s roads.
Some police officers have reportedly been picked up in connection with the scam that has infuriated mainly kombi drivers, who strive to conform to traffic requirements.
Police roadblocks are now referred to as ATM’s (Automated Teller Machines) where officers openly ask for bribes from motorists.
There is also an outcry over the way police officers chase around kombis in congested streets, a development which has led to the death of people after being hit by the commuter omnibuses whose drivers will be fleeing from the police.
Police are in the habit of smashing windscreens of commuter omnibuses.
But it is the latest unofficial operation by the police which has riled kombi drivers and operators.
The scam code named Tora Mari United is a fleecing sting that has seen a number of junior traffic officers driving nice vehicles — in contrast to their scanty civil service salaries.
The plot entails that kombi drivers — who do not want to pay an exorbitant, unreceipted spot fine — make a daily payment of $5 as a “tollgate” fee.
Week-long investigations by the Daily News have revealed that the scam is a well-knitted plan, involving cops and touts, who liaise with the kombi crew at several bus termini in Harare and its hinterland.
After witnessing the scam, the Daily News took the matter to the police internal investigations unit — leading to the arrest of some traffic cops.
The paper also had a long discussion with police spokesperson Charity Charamba, who however, could not reveal the total number of police officer arrested in connection with the operation.
A normal day for kombi drivers like Fungai Banda starts with a courtesy call to a tout whose sole purpose is to receive $5 per kombi.
Those who refuse to pay the agent-cum- tout a “tollgate” fee of $5, pay heavily on the road as cops on the roads demand a bribe of $10 or a receipt of $15 to $20 for various defects — even when there are no defects.
The apprehension of the five police officers is apparently just a tip of the iceberg with kombi drivers alleging that the practice is widespread.
“We are being milked daily by these police officers. We are sick and tired and it is time to deal with this menace which is drowning my work and income for no reason,” an infuriated Banda said while entering police headquarters to see Charamba in the company of the Daily News crew.
Charamba was flanked by two other police officers.
A number of drivers who spoke to this paper said failure to “grease the palms” (bribe) of the police officers often resulted in prolonged delays at the numerous roadblocks along major roads throughout the country.
On Monday and Tuesday, a kombi driver who was giving information to the Daily News paid money to a tout who recorded his kombi’s details in a notebook at the bus termini at the corner of Chinhoyi Street and Samora Machel Avenue.
The registration would be sent to the police officers manning road blocks on the route to allow the kombi to pass without being delayed.
The arrest of the five police officers is apparently just the tip of the iceberg with kombi drivers alleging that the practice is widespread.
“We are being milked daily by these police officers. We are sick and tired and it is time to deal with this menace which is drowning my work and income for no reason,” the infuriated kombi driver said.
Banda said roadblocks had literally become feeding troughs for the country’s traffic cops — while their (drivers) families and employers are getting nothing from their investments.
“My vehicle was impounded and taken to VID (Vehicle Inspection Department) without any fault; this was done to ensure that I suffer because I had refused to grease (bribe) them, this is not how a country should work,” Banda said.
During the meeting with Charamba, the kombi driver did not mince his words as he nailed the cops “harassing” kombi drivers by demanding the bribes.
“I had all the papers but still the police kept bothering me, even though I was carrying the stipulated number of passengers, the police stopped me near Heroes Acre,” said Banda who plies the Warren Park route.
In some instances, there will be five roadblocks along the Harare/Chitungwiza road, and each and every kombi is expected to pay not less than $20 per day from a total income of less $80, leaving the owner of the kombi with less than $60.
“It is very rare that you are not fined, even if your kombi is in condition. Police officers will always find a fault and if you ague, you will be severely punished,” said Farai Muhonde, a driver plying City-Chitungwiza route.
“We are forced to work until late so that we are able to meet our targets and this has a bearing in the long run, as the vehicles are overworked,” Muhonde said.
As a result of the scam — which could be generating thousands of dollars for a few police officers — unlicensed drivers and un-roadworthy vehicles are cruising through the porous roadblocks that are supposed to act as search points — while those who refuse to smear the palms of the cops are made to suffer.
During investigations, the Daily News witnessed a police officer inspecting a vehicle at a roadblock along Chitungwiza Road.
The policeman looked at the number plate and then at his mobile phone before signalling the kombi to pass through.
This was despite the fact that the kombi had more than the stipulated 15 passengers, something that attracts a heavy penalty. This puts the lives of travellers at risk.
The country’s traffic cops, who at one point took lie-detecting tests to prove they were not corrupt, have been placed in the spotlight recently after claims from other sectors, linking them to corrupt activities.