Unscrupulous cops abuse apparel

BULAWAYO - Two middle-aged police officers dressed up in service uniform linger around a bus shelter at Renkini main terminus downtown Bulawayo clutching small travel bags.

Purposefully, they walk round the bus, patiently waiting for paying passengers to board before straggling on board to join commuters standing in the aisle.

Three others already on the bus give way to fare-paying passengers without much ado.

The five, represent a growing number of policemen and women who have got accustomed to boarding buses to various destinations for free.

All they have to do is put on their service uniforms.

Police officers have taken advantage of an unwritten law to travel on public transports for free. In the past, police officers and other public servants on assignment were issued with travel warrants that entitled bus operators to claim the fare from the government.

But the arrangement is no longer adhered to. Police officers have adopted the movie-style practice where officers chasing after criminal suspects commandeer vehicles from motorists on the thoroughfares after flagging police badges in their faces.

“We have got used to that now and we don’t bother to ask if they are travelling on duty,” says conductor Ephraim Pangai, squeezing himself between standing passengers to retrieve a fare.

“It is an unwritten rule for the public transporters to assist the police. But I think they have taken advantage of that to go on private errands for free.”

Pangai confirms that in the past, police officers travelling on duty were issued with travel warrants by the police department. Operators would forward the documents to the State Central Payments Office for payment.

“It took more than six months to get reimbursed by the government. But in the end companies got paid after a lot of unnecessary hassles,” Pangai added.

“Non-paying police officers on board have become an irritant,” says bus driver, Clarion Mudhambani.

“They compete for space with the itinerant blind that beg for alms from the travelling public commuting on buses singing hymns to attract sympathy.”

Mudhambani says although the issue of fares is between the conductor and the passenger, his concern stems from the fears that it could become a habit and bus operators would be overwhelmed.

“You cannot tell who is a genuine police officer and who is not. What stops these ‘officers’ relatives from borrowing their uniforms in order to get free rides?” he asks.

But having police officers on board has its advantages.

“On the other hand, police officers on board are a safeguard against being asked for bribes by other police officers manning roadblocks along the way, depending on what rank they hold,” Mudhambani chuckled.

Not only that.

Capitalising on this unwritten arrangement, unscrupulous coach operators have abused police attire to evade check points along the highways.

A shortage of long-distance buses along major highways had spawned a class of intrepid motor coach operators that clutter various highways to bridge the transport gap and carrying more than the legally specified passengers on their vehicles.

And to hedge being asked for kickbacks by junior police officers manning countless motorist checkpoints, daring coach drivers place headgear assigned to senior officers conspicuously on the dashboard lending credence to Mudhambani’s assertion.

Others place two or three editions of the official police periodicals, The Outpost, on the dashboard or put on road safety vests with the word “Traffic” inscribed on the back. When approaching a check point, drivers lean forward from their driving seats so that details manning the roadblock see the inscription and wave them on.

The ruse has led members of the public to suspect that some of the motor coaches are owned by senior police officers. Others claim shrewd operators ply illegal routes with a wink from police officers.

But police boss Augustine Chihuri has contested assertions by commuter omnibus operators’ association that police officers own the bulk of these omnibuses.

Chihuri insists his charges “should neither own nor run omnibus businesses to avoid a conflict of interest”.

Early this year in January, a select parliamentary committee heard complaints by genuine operators of being victimised by police that own these vehicles in dogfights over lucrative routes.

Chairperson Cosmas Mbonjani told the committee there was a lot of an illegal activity where police officers were benefitting.

A deputy commissioner of road motor transport in the Transport ministry, Crispen Hama told the same committee his commission was concerned with the spike in road accidents.

He said his commission had conducted a survey and found that more than 80 percent of the kombis — a popular name for commuter coaches that have virtually taken over urban and rural transportation — do not have route authority.

“Traffic laws are being completely violated by operators. You find the vehicles have no route authority and permit while the driver is ill-equipped to be driving a public service vehicle,” Hama told the select committee.

Most travellers prefer these coaches which are faster but often recklessly driven than orthodox buses because they have lesser pit-stops along the way.

But they risk their lives with this abiding purpose to beat the clock and reach their destinations ahead of time.

Comments (3)

I remember seeing stickers in combis back then which were written, "Being a police officer is not a passport for a free ride", and indeed they used to pay, next they started sitting paKadoma, next they now sat with the passengers, then came in the army and recently prison guards!! Whats next? Maybe they will just walk into a supermarket and grab things and go.

kitsi - 4 June 2014

They are going to end up doing that; in fact the army did it back in 2008. They went around looting electrical gadgets from shops around the city. Its possible, just walk into an Ok store, pick up what they need and just walk out.

Zuruvi - 4 June 2014

ngavabhadhare vanhu ava.

felix kuyaya - 4 June 2014

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