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M-Pesa the bribe, and other tricks traffic police use

Saturday August 15 2015

The Range Rover associated with Pastor James Ng’ang’a which caused a fatal road accident in Limuru recently.

The Range Rover associated with Pastor James Ng’ang’a which caused a fatal road accident in Limuru recently. Investigations have revealed the many ploys rogue traffic officers use — sometimes punishing innocent motorists and letting offenders go free. PHOTO | ERIC WAINAINA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

FRED MUKINDA
By FRED MUKINDA
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The traffic police department is once again in the spotlight following recent allegations of corruption and cover-up.

Investigations and interviews by the Sunday Nation reveal the dirty tricks rogue traffic police use — sometimes punishing innocent motorists and letting offenders go free. 

The most recent allegation involved claims that officers from Tigoni police station attempted to cover-up details of an accident linked to Pastor James Ng’ang’a in which a woman died. The preacher has denied the claim. 

A story is told of how traffic police officers went to resolve a case between two motorists on Thika Road. It involved a matatu minibus and a private vehicle.

The matatu crew started harassing the middle-aged man who was driving the private car. And when the police came, they sided with the matatu driver, even though the private vehicle owner was sure he was not at fault. It was part of a scheme that fuelled impunity on the road, where matatu crews are shielded by the police.

As the scenario unfolded, a CID officer drove by and stopped, on recognising the distressed middle-aged driver, who was in civilian clothing. The CID officer saluted him as a recognition of rank. 

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Suddenly, the traffic police officers froze. Little did they know that the man they were dealing with was the General Service Unit Commandant at the time, and later Police Commissioner, Matthew Iteere.

A PRIORITY

GSU commandants are rarely recognised in public, even within other units of the police, as their paramilitary duties restrict them to behind-the-scenes operations.

The story goes that the traffic policemen nearly fled after the CID officer asked them: “Kwani hamjui commandant wa GSU?” (Don’t you know that he is the GSU commandant?)

Later, when Mr Iteere replaced Maj-Gen (rtd) Hussein Ali as police commissioner, he said that reforming the traffic department would be a priority.

So deep is the rot that senior police officers and anti-corruption officials seem at a loss on what to do beyond the frequent sting operations to arrest bribe takers at road blocks.

Last December, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Grace Kaindi abolished the entire traffic base in Kabete and transferred its officers across the country.

In July, she told the press in an interview that the traffic department was giving the Kenya Police a bad name because of runaway corruption.

In 2013, former Inspector-General David Kimaiyo called a meeting of senior traffic officers on July 18 and threatened to sack them all, saying corruption had reached such high levels that the law was no longer enforced.

And when Mr Kimaiyo was forced out of office, then acting Inspector-General Samuel Arachi formed a special team of officers to hunt down and arrest rogue colleagues in the traffic department.

AVOID ARREST

The year before, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission established that heavy load transporters were parting with between Sh1,000 and Sh3,000 to avoid arrest by police officers. At least Sh300,000 was collected daily and shared among police officers, the anti-corruption agency established.

EACC went ahead to raid weighbridges in Mariakani and Athi River in an attempt to catch rogue officers in action, but were taken aback when some officers allegedly drew their guns.

Traffic officers’ tricks seem to be evolving. In their main source of income — public transport — some rogue officers have recruited middlemen who pose as matatu touts to collect money on their behalf.

In other cases, rogue officers open mobile money outlets where an alleged offender is given the agent’s number and told to withdraw bribe money from their accounts — instead of sending. One does not need to be anywhere near the agent’s physical location.

At the end of the day, the rogue officers reconcile their dirty proceeds by making entries in the catalogue, including filling fictitious personal details of those who “withdrew” cash. 

Since the Pastor Ng’ang’a saga, which is still unfolding, other stories have surfaced. Mr Joseph ME Simekha was driving on Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi, on January 24, 2012. His car was hit by another car, which was being driven on the wrong side of the road, causing damage that cost him Sh38,000 to repair.

It later turned out the offending driver was a police detective attached to then Nairobi provincial CID office. For the nine months that followed, Mr Simekha unsuccessfully sought help at Nairobi’s Central Police Station and police headquarters at Vigilance House, until then Information Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo intervened.

The PS sent mail to Mr Iteere ... and Mr Simekha finally met then police spokesman Eric Kiraithe in his office.

“The spokesman referred me to Mr Leonard Katana, who was deputy traffic police boss in Nairobi. To cut a long story short, they took to court someone else, charged him with reckless driving; he pleaded guilty; was fined Sh10,000; and the case was closed,” Mr Simekha told the Sunday Nation.

Later, a man who identified himself as a friend of one of the senior officers gave him Sh38,000 as reimbursement for the money he had spent to repair his car.

RECEIVED SUMMONS

In 2013, he received court summons that he had caused a fatal accident in Bungoma on May 24, 2012.

“I received summons to enter a defence in a court case in Bungoma where my car supposedly had been involved in a fatal accident that led to the death of a woman,” Mr Simekha said.

The court papers had his car’s registration numbers but the other details were an outright forgery. He owns a Prado but the papers showed his car was a Toyota Town Ace, a  matatu.

The case was a civil matter in which he had been sued by Mr Richard Osundwa, whose wife Claire died in the accident. With the help of his lawyer, he was struck off the suit after it was argued that he was a stranger to the case.

“I concluded that after the Toyota matatu was involved in the accident, police falsified documents to protect its owner. Whether my car’s registration number was randomly picked ... I do not know, but the motive is clear,” said Mr Simekha.

Then there is the case of Ms Waithira Wanjohi, who was arrested and taken to court on July 21 for driving at 120 km per hour. She was stopped at Naivasha but was informed that she had exceeded the speed limit at Kinungi, several kilometres away.

“Why was I denied bond at the police station upon request? Why did the magistrate not give us, individually, a chance to defend ourselves but instead read and concluded the case for the five of us jointly, fining us Sh10,000 each?” she asked.

While police said she was driving at 120 km per hour, the magistrate’s records read 125 km per hour.