Thursday, August 14, 2008

Crooked police go hi-tech in hunt for bribes

Transparency International-Kenya director Job Ogondo during the release of the Kenya bribery index. Similar reports have in the past placed the police at the top of the list of corrupt State officials. Photos/ FILE 

By FRED MUKINDA

Corrupt policemen are keeping abreast with technology, and turning to mobile phone transactions and brokers to avoid arrest.

Indeed, reputable organisations have since 2001 reported that police are the most corrupt public officers in Kenya.

But the discreet methods used by officers to receive bribes have not prevented researchers from gathering facts and presenting the annual indexes.

At a traffic roadblock, the bus conductor or matatu tout would drop a Sh100 note squeezed into a tiny ball as a police officer pretends to check the validity of insurance stickers on the windscreen. The officer allows the vehicle to proceed and picks the note after it drives away.

A driver could also hand over his licence to an officer but with a bank note neatly placed inside. The officer would constantly stash the notes in a pouch hidden by the road and take away the money at the end of the day.

Recently, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission found out such cases may have reduced, but warned that the level of corruption by traffic police officers remained high, thanks to advances in technology.

Detectives at the commission unearthed a new method by which corrupt officers receive bribes via mobile phone-based technology, like M-Pesa and Sokotele.

Some of the cases under investigation show bribery is rampant among traffic police officers and those manning weighbridges.

It was discovered after officers on such assignments were found to be regularly receiving money through cashing agents of mobile phone companies.

Regular senders were found to be matatu drivers and conductors, according to a KACC detective who spoke to the Nation.

Long distance truck transporters were also found to be culpable for regularly breaking highway regulations like overloading, exceeding axle limits, smuggling and transporting contraband goods.

Further revealed

A typical policeman on a regular traffic beat receives between Sh500 and Sh15,000 daily, the detective disclosed.

A report by the commission seen by the Nation indicated: “Corruption in the police force has come under increasing scrutiny in recent times. Along with the increasing frequency of bribery, are special challenges presented by the sophisticated methods applied.”

The detective, who requested anonymity saying the investigation was still at an early stage, said conventional methods previously used had become too risky due to increased vigilance from the public and the commission.

He explained that the officers were avoiding receiving money directly from operators, since the bank notes could be treated and serialised to preserve evidence.

According to the investigation, officers had also engaged the services of brokers to make it difficult for detectives to track the phone transactions. The brokers would use their phones to cash money from agents and later hand it over to the officers for a small fee.

This is because the service providers require a recipient and the sender to produce national identity card before allowing the transaction.

Commission detectives are focusing investigations on traffic police. “Officers who are regularly on the same assignment expect bribes on a daily basis and prefer using the cellphones. On the other hand, their colleagues aren’t sure who they are dealing with and expect instant cash,” said the detective close to the on-going investigations.

The technological advancement has caused an unprecedented challenge to detectives who had been following leads on corrupt officers using surveillance cameras and catching them red-handed.

Officers who spoke to the Nation said it was not an offence to receive money via the cellphone, unless it was proved that it was a bribe. The cellphone transactions have largely been traced to police officers in Nairobi and major towns.

Detectives said it had not spread to the rural areas where the frequency of bribery was not high.

A report released last month by Transparency International placed police on the top of the list of the most corrupt officials in government departments in 2007. The position had not changed since 2001.

Reports for 2006 and 2007 also show police at the top, with almost a third of all cases under investigation involving police officers.

Between January and May, 35 per cent of suspects arrested by the anti-graft officials were police officers. On bribery alone, seven regular police officers and three Administration Police officers were arrested.

Although the anti-corruption team, receives 20 complaints a day, only a few are selected for investigation. Also on the investigation list include officials of Nairobi City Council, Judiciary, the State Law Office, the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Electoral Commission of Kenya.

The investigation on phone-based corruption, KACC said, would not be successful unless the public cooperated.

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