By Tendai Kamhungira
President Robert Mugabe yesterday endeared himself to thousands of mourners at the National Heroes Acre and millions of viewers at home, when he shamed the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)over its ubiquitous roadblocks and “culture” of bribe-taking on the roads which the 93-year-old warned should stop forthwith.
He received thunderous applause while the cameras zoomed in on police chief Augustine Chihuri who was in attendance.
Mugabe also slammed police officers for owning and secretly operating commuter omnibuses, some of which he said were responsible for the carnage reported on the country’s roads.
Addressing thousands of mourners at the burial of national hero George Rutanhire and heroine Moudy Aloisia Muzenda, Mugabe also implored the security forces to co-exist and promote peace.
“We are a people’s party, the police, a people’s police force, the defence forces and army to secure our people, defend them when necessary, intelligence for us to know whether we have enemies who would want to affect our living, living standards and who are part of the detractors of our development.
“The three must work together and I plead, please, please, have harmony between yourselves, please, please share ideas, please, please, have your joint meetings and please, please let your programmes, the programme of each of you be known to the others,” said Mugabe as he tried to heal the rift between the army and police force which recently boiled over when soldiers beat up police officers over the use of a spike on a car belonging to a senior military officer.
“The rest of us let us not be afraid of the police, they are your soldiers, they want to work with you. The police force, be a police force of the people and not waiting for people on the roads to demand bribes.
“We do not want to hear that. So stop that evil. If you want farms we can give you land to cultivate and if you want to have clean businesses, why not?
“If you are a policeman, you can combine, you can run a bus fleet instead of having commuter omnibuses, some of which are killing people. So if a police officer’s commuter omnibus kills people, what then is the meaning of your job as a police officer?” asked Mugabe.
“We will give you a chance to come up with your own bus company. You buy two or three buses, combine. It can be run not just by yourselves, you look for drivers and others who can run these businesses, even your children, that’s more dignified, not demanding bribes from people.
“It’s also happening in the army Chiwenga (Constantino), clean, clean your own dirt, it’s there as well, but the one that I am referring to now is what has troubled many people,” he added.
The ZRP in June reported it had collected $14 million from its unpopular roadblocks and arrested more than one million traffic offenders.
Police roadblocks, apart from complaints of harassment by the motoring public, have also been blamed for driving away international tourists.
Speaker of National Assembly Jacob Mudenda and Tourism minister Walter Mzembi are among those who have been critical of the many roadblocks and so-called spot checks.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has also added his voice to the issue by imploring Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo to have dialogue with Mzembi, but despite promising that they would be reduced, police have actually increased them.
Police have repeatedly argued for more punitive measures on the roads such as increasing spot fines with Chihuri in February calling for a steep hike to stem road crime and carnage.
Chihuri was addressing parliamentarians who sit in the portfolio committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development who were touring the law enforcement agency’s transport management and computerisation centre at Chikurubi.
“The fines are such that once you pay, you forget it. Take for example in Germany, if you commit an offence, they take all your number plates and for you to get one plate (back), you need to fork out $10 000, which is $20 000 for the two,” Chihuri told the lawmakers then.
“I think for us, the number of people who commit road offences will continue to increase because of small fines. Yes, spikes are legal . . . spot fines are also legal. People forget that as police, we need to be protected from criminals. Everyone sees our mistakes because we work with people all the time,” he said.
Chihuri’s sentiments came after Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa in the 2017 budget hiked standard fines — which were last reviewed in February 2009 — by up to 100 percent with effect from January 1.
On the other hand, in February the High Court ruled that there was no law that allowed police to confiscate driver’s licences and impound vehicles of drivers who refused to pay spot fines.
This was after police had admitted that they had no right to force drivers to pay spot fines.
Ordinary Zimbabweans and motorists have also blamed rampant corruption at these roadblocks and spot checks with the Road Users Association threatening to file a complaint at the Constitutional Court.
Home Affairs deputy minister Obedingwa Mguni unwittingly exposed the corruption by traffic police officers when he told Parliament two months ago that he had received requests from MPs to facilitate their children’s transfers to the traffic department.
“I have received more than four requests from Members of Parliament and they are asking me to say ‘my son or my daughter is in the police force, he wants to be transferred to the traffic section.’
“I have told Levy Sibanda, who is deputy commissioner-general for human resources that here are the names of daughters and sons of MPs who want to be transferred to the traffic section. Can you interview them why they want to be transferred to that section, what is the reason?
“The reason has been ‘my wife is far from me,’ ‘I see Bulawayo traffic is near, where there is space can I be accommodated?’
“There are a lot of even community leaders who want their sons to go and work in the traffic department. You wonder why, what is the reason? Here, we have to correct everything to eradicate this (corruption) crime.”
Mguni said while giving oral evidence to the parliamentary portfolio committee on Transport. Daily News