I was in a group last week that was discussing
the impact of the change of authority on the roads in the
country. It was almost a week after the presidential decree that
stopped the National Transport and safety Authority (NTSA) in
tracks and put the traffic police back in charge of the roads.
clergy man, who was in this diverse group that had formed on the
sides of a wedding after party, surprised a lot of us when he
supported the move in a very unclerical manner.
The man said that he had a lot of experience of the two
systems being one who spent most of his time on the road both
driving cars and also in charge of motor bikes when ministering
to a rural population.
He also used buses to travel in between the various Diocese
of the church.
The one big difference according to him was that prior to the
NTSA taking over the enforcement duties on roads, the police had
developed a very sophisticated system that relied on volume
rather than on individual big hits to make money from
The first was the standard "fines" that matatus had to pay to
get the boys in blue in order to avoid the inspection of the
vehicle and time waste time.
This was a simple price that ranged from fifty shillings for
a boda boda operator or a motorbike rider through to the two
hundred shillings per trip for the matatu.
By paying this the matatu saved almost five minutes per trip
and this could easily translate into whether one got a passenger
Same for the boda boda operator.
The next level was when a vehicle or motorbike was operating
with a known defect.
There was also a standard charge for each defect so that the
more defects one vehicle had the more they paid.
These were mainly visible defects such as faulty lights,
indicators that did not work, smoking exhausts, balding or bald
tyres, missing wing mirrors, expired licenses and worst of all
lack of insurance.
Each of these defects had a defined value payable either
daily or monthly depending on the seriousness of the defect with
the highest being lack of insurance.
The best was the fleet protection charge.
This was when the police colluded with the owner of a whole
fleet of public service vehicles so that a single payment at a
higher level in the force, whether on a monthly or annual basis,
was enough for the senior officer to order all those under him
to give free passage to all the vehicles in a fleet belonging to
a specific operator.
This was a well developed system that had taken many years to
It also had middlemen who would broker deals between the cops
and the vehicle operators.
Payment methods ranged from literally greasing palms where
money was contained in a clenched fist which would be passed in
surreptitiously through the use of mobile money or other
electronic means to standard banking transactions through
various intermediaries so that there would be difficult
traceability of the passage of the money.
When the NTSA came on board, they quickly learned that there
was an opportunity to also make money and since they were new
and supposedly more sophisticated and incorruptible, the
transport operators started offering money till some of the
staff realised that this was an easy way of making extra cash.
All that they did was that they raised the values of the
payments but did not really change the compliance level required
for that higher value of payment.
The payment processes also went back to basics with money
changing hands either on the roads or via mobile transaction –
all easy to discern and punish.
So, the vice continued and the rate of accidents continued.
What took me aback and a lot of the other people in the room
was that the clergy man said that he preferred the presence of
traditional police instead of the NTSA staff as the cost of
passage was cheaper and also the payment methods were simpler
and well established.
This for him was better because it lowered the cost of travel
and in turn lowered his costs!
Coming from a man of the cloth this was very surprising.
However, on reflection later, it showed how entrenched the
whole system of extortion was that even in the revered corridors
of the clerical service, some of the members were beginning to
accept the evil as a norm and factoring that in their budget.
In a way this illustrates just how entrenched the rot in our
road transport system is.
The reality is that the enforcement arm of the NTSA had cops
who were from the normal police service.
It is surprising that anyone expected their operations to be
With the removal of the enforcement mandate from the NTSA,
the officers who had been seconded have now been returned to
their old grazing grounds.
We should expect that the well established extortion systems
will now begin to operate more smoothly and that the rate of
accidents will increase though the rate of fatal accidents
should go down.
What this country needs is a complete overhaul of the traffic
police and the NTSA so that we start moving forward.
As Kachumbari says, change doesn’t come easy.
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