Sunday, June 16, 2013

Police officers abuse new traffic laws to demand hefty bribes from motorists

PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | FILE Traffic police officers inspect a matatu during a crackdown on unroadworthy vehicles in Nyeri.

PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | FILE Traffic police officers inspect a matatu during a crackdown on unroadworthy vehicles in Nyeri. Police chiefs have denied allegations that their officers use the new stiff penalties for traffic offences to solicit bribes from motorists.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JEREMIAH KIPLANG’AT [email protected]

Police have been accused of using tough traffic rules introduced last year to demand huge bribes from motorists.

A Nation survey in most parts of the country established that police were demanding up to Sh15,000 from motorists accused of speeding or overlapping on grounds they would pay more if arraigned in court.

According to the Traffic (Amendment) Act 2012, motorists found guilty of speeding are liable to a fine of not less than Sh20,000 or three months imprisonment or both.

Those found guilty of overlapping can be fined at least Sh30,000 or three months imprisonment or both.

But police chiefs have denied the bribery claims.

Baringo Traffic Base Commander Daniel Ololngojine said his office was yet to receive any complaints of bribery.

“We are on the lookout for defective vehicles and motorists who flout traffic rules. Those found guilty will have their vehicles impounded and charged in court,” said the traffic boss.

Eldoret West police boss Erastus Muthamia exonerated his officers from claims that they solicit bribes to release impounded vehicles, and concerns that they only mount crackdowns after a series of accidents.

He warned the traffic offenders against bribing the law enforcers saying if caught, both would be arrested.

Siaya police boss Stephen Cheteka said he has never received any reports of his officers demanding bribes from motorists but admitted that it happens.

“The problem is the society, because these things happen but are not reported to us. It is very difficult to take action against an officer when we don’t have evidence against them,” he said.

Mr Cheteka however added that the force conducts seminars for officers on integrity and the repercussions of taking bribes.

But the Nation established that most of the notorious routes include the Nairobi-Narok, Nairobi-Nakuru, Kisumu-Busia roads, among others.

Nyeri Matatu Owners Association chairman Patrick Mugwara said police officers manning roadblocks ask for higher bribes if the offences are serious.

“Nothing has changed since the enactment of the law except that the police are asking for higher bribes,” said Mr Mugwara.

Some motorists accused traffic police officers of abusing the new rules to punish them unfairly.

“Police insisted that I was speeding at 109 km/h yet I was doing 90 km/h on the Nairobi-Narok road,” said Mr Philip Githui, a driver who was arrested on the road last week.

“A policewoman asked me for Sh5,000 but I told her that I would not give out any money...I tried to have them accept a cash bail so that I could proceed with my journey but they insisted on taking us to court immediately.”

To intimidate arrested motorists, the officers deny them cash bail and instead force them to the cells before dragging them to court. Yet others buy their way out when their files containing charge sheets are plucked by rogue officers who then demand money from them.

Matatu Welfare Association chairman Dickson Mbugua has asked President Kenyatta to set up a taskforce to look into “corruption in the traffic police department”.

Mr Mbugua on Sunday warned they would withdraw their services in three days to protest the ongoing crackdown on unroadworthy public service vehicles.

He said the operation launched by the traffic police was not in good faith, as it had targeted even vehicles in good condition.

On Sunday, the chairman gave the Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo three days to stop the crackdown and call for a meeting with them.

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