A senior traffic policeman in Nairobi was depositing an average of Sh300,000 every day in his bank account at the height of a crackdown on public service vehicles conducted in June, the Sunday Nation can reveal.
The officer was identified and investigated by matatu industry players who reported the matter to Inspector-General David Kimaiyo.
The officer is one in thousands of rogue policemen in Nairobi and other towns who are minting hundreds of millions of shillings every month in a syndicate through which PSV operators pay “protection” fees so that their vehicles can operate without being impounded.
The syndicate involves leaders of various matatu Saccos who collect the money from their members and pass it on to the policemen.
As a result, unserviceable and unroadworthy vehicles as well as those carrying excess passengers and goods are allowed to operate freely while those speeding are ushered through police roadblocks, often with disastrous consequences.
Thursday night’s road accident on the Maai Mahiu-Narok road which killed more than 40 people is the latest example of the consequences of the greed that has overshadowed every effort to bring sanity to Kenyan roads. The bus involved in the accident was carrying excess passengers.
It also did not have papers to show it had gone through inspection by ministry of Transport officials, a mandatory process for PSVs.
The Sunday Nation also established that another senior traffic officer in Nairobi receives a bribe of Sh100,000 every Friday from one matatu Sacco. It could not be established how much the officer collects from other Saccos operating in the routes under his jurisdiction but indications point to staggering amounts.
“Saccos and bus companies are forced to create a slash fund to bribe senior officers and operate ‘peacefully’. Money is delivered by an agreed individual. One Sacco with about 50 vehicles is parting with Sh100,000 every week to an officer who earns Sh40,000 a month,” a matatu official familiar with the dealings told the Sunday Nation.
Officers also offer not to prosecute errant drivers if the offenders agree to split the cash bail which is usually in the range of Sh10,000. Drivers and owners play ball to avoid hefty court fines.
“If there are 20 vehicles and he takes Sh5,000 from each driver that would be Sh100,000,” said the matatu official.
Other than the lump sum cash which is normally delivered to senior officers, their juniors manning junctions, roundabouts and roadblocks are also involved in daily collection of bribes, some of which are shared with the bosses.
“The money moves up the chain of command rapidly and officers who prove uncooperative are transferred,” said a regular officer familiar with the syndicate.
In this case, the constables at the road will keep “something” for their immediate boss, who will pass on some amount to the local traffic commander all the way to the bosses. Junior officers are often sent to deliver the money in cash.
Our investigations also revealed that police officers have perfected the art of laundering the bribes by opening businesses for their wives, relatives, mistresses or concubines or perpetually engaging in projects like construction so that the money is converted into property. One officer in the rank of an inspector was said to be pocketing in excess of Sh500,000 a month in bribes.
The bribery schemes have bred a powerful cartel involving government officials outside the police force who have collectively turned the public transport sector into a money minting machine akin to a massive harambee effort that has left travellers at the mercy of crews riding on the impunity.
The horrifying road carnage that has claimed countless lives and threatens thousands more every day is the outcome of this juggernaut that has also roped in some people in the Judiciary and the motor vehicle inspection unit working in cahoots with matatu crews and PSV owners.
As a result of their complicity, police bosses have been known to publicly appear concerned whenever there is an accident while, on the background, many of them receive hefty bribes from the same people causing the accidents.
“It’s a vicious cycle … the police top brass have mastered the art of managing public anger on the spur of the moment and retreating to their corrupt ways as soon as bereaved families have collected their loved ones for burial; it’s a grim situation,” said a junior officer who cannot be identified discussing his seniors.
Reports of corruption are always met with promises of investigations and a call for evidence from the accusing public.
The Independent Policing Oversight Authority is set to publish a report in which they will deal with corruption among other subjects, chairman Macharia Njeru has promised.
“There are many cases of police demanding bribes; police not undertaking investigations through negligence or abdication of duty. There are also cases of rudeness or unprofessional conduct,” Mr Njeru said at a recent meeting with editors.
The corruption web in the PSV sector starts when one buys a matatu or bus. The Traffic Act has detailed specifications detailing how the body of a public service vehicle is supposed to be designed and contracted.
The body builders are the first to encounter the corruption barrier. A cartel of officials at the Motor Vehicle Inspection Unit has made it their business to reject applications for PSV inspection certificates before one parts with a bribe. The same goes for speed governors which public service vehicles owners fit and then tamper with to break the speed limits.
Once on the road, matatu owners are inducted into the bribe-paying business because they have to pay “operation fees” to their Saccos who, in turn, appoint an official whose job it is to deal with police officers.
Additionally, crews caught on the wrong side of the law have to repeatedly pay bribes, increasingly feeding the juggernaut that is claiming lives at a shocking rate.
When a matatu or bus is due for inspection and recertification in a year, matatu crews who spoke to the Sunday Nation said they never return to the Motor Vehicle Inspection Unit. Instead, they just send the requisite bribe and the stickers are delivered by brokers who are trusted by the corrupt ministry officials.
Some matatus, the officials said, will run a lifespan on the roads without ever having to return for inspection and the results are glaring: jalopies on wheels with brand new inspection stickers ferrying passengers all around the country.
Matatu owners fear speaking out because, every time they do, vehicles belonging to their spokesmen or officials are targeted by the police and impounded “until they cool off”.
Some of the junior officers we spoke to said that the bribery and extortion scheme is driven by senior officers who threaten them with transfers. “If you have nothing to show for a plum traffic posting, you may find yourself in Lodwar. We actually have targets,” one of them said.
The Sunday Nation team witnessed officers manning the junction between Kencom and Ambassador bus stops entering and leaving many of the buses arriving at the stage. Crews operating in the buses said they have to part with up to Sh200 every time they arrive in town.
One of the matatu industry officials we spoke to said that the cost of bribes and the hefty fines imposed on errant crews had forced owners to abandon regular repairs and servicing. It is this prolonged neglect of vehicles that easily converts into road accidents.
Players in the matatu industry have held meetings at offices no less than that of Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and the Inspector-General of Police to try and tackle the issues bedevilling the sector.
For example, the police boss, Mr Kimaiyo, chaired a meeting between his officers and top officials of the matatu industry in his office on the evening of June 20 over the public service transport sector crisis.
Mr Kimaiyo was told that his officers were demanding Sh5,000 in bribes instead of taking errant drivers to court to face Sh20,000 fines.