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Face to face with ugly corruption on a day spent in the courtroom

Friday June 29 2018

By BEATRICE W MBUGUA

On Thursday, June 14, I was stopped by a police officer on the Southern Bypass for doing 114 kph in a 100 kph area. I stated that I had no money on me and, after a long wait, was given a free bond with threats of arrest if I did not show up in court.

By 7.45am on Monday, I was at the Milimani Law Courts, where I found a small crowd waiting at the gate. A guard informed us that an approaching police officer would assist us. The officer greeted us with charm and asked us to follow him into the court.

Outside room 9, he examined our notices and told us that our fines could be Sh13,000 upwards but he could take Sh10,000 from each of us and the matter would end. We declined his ‘help’. He told us to wait as the judge would come at noon. It was 8am.

At 10.30am a magistrate walked in. He was polite and listened keenly. He was not assigned to us and left shortly thereafter.

The prosecutor studied our traffic offences and commented how high the fines would be. She stood there awkwardly and left. A driver informed me that that was a way of asking for a bribe.

Then the doors were opened and many people walked in. The policemen with them were rude. They walked around the benches asking people what their of-fences were and stating how high the fine would be. They were willing to ‘help any willing person’.

People gave out their notices to the policeman who ‘worked’ our bench. “Yours will be 30,000,” he informed a matatu driver.

He quoted figures that had people squirming in their seats. A matatu driver approached him but was soon back on his seat; maybe the bribe was too high.

The officers had many ‘seeing’ them. The numbers had reduced by the time the magistrate walked in at 12.45pm. The court clerk began calling out names. Those caught without seatbelts were heavily fined on acceptance or granted a significantly higher bond for saying “no”.

“Do you accept or deny the charges?” the magistrate would thunder. “I accept,” they replied timidly. “Any mitigating issue?”

No one responded and all were fined the maximum Sh500.

I was fined Sh15,000. Matatu drivers who denied the charges were granted bonds of Sh30,000 to Sh50,000. The magistrate exited and we began paying fines.

A policeman told me I would be on the bus to Lang'ata Women’s Prison as it was leaving at 2pm. I paid the money soon after and was asked to sit down as the receipt was written by the cashiers and the rude officer. I promptly informed them that I would only sit down once I had seen my receipt being written.

A long wait then ensued filled with police harassment including being asked one’s tribe.

I finally left the courtroom at around 5 pm, having gained a world of experience in the way the Judiciary and police work in Kenya. Every blue uniform I saw on my way home seemed like an alien life form waiting to cannibalise the unfortunate Kenyan who crossed their paths.

BEATRICE W. MBUGUA, Nairobi