Picture: Oupa Mokoena / ANA

Johannesburg – Zimbabwean motorists are being ripped off at police roadblocks as part of a deliberate strategy by the Zimbabwean government to fund the country’s under-resourced police force.

This is according to a Wednesday article written by Derek Matyszak, a consultant for the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria.

“Numerous violations of the country’s laws occur in the process, and the roadblock dynamics neatly encapsulate, at a micro level, many aspects of Zimbabwe’s broader misgovernance,” said Matyszak.

The source of the problem is a decision to allow the police to retain the fines they collect.

“This creates an incentive for the over-regulation of traffic and inducement to fine as many motorists as possible guilty of traffic offences, real or imagined,” explained Matyszak.

However, this was insufficient to raise the required revenue so motorists are further being induced to hand over cash to the police and this is only possible if the police are breaching the law while they claim to be enforcing it.

“The seemingly reasonable request by the police officer to ‘see’ a motorist’s licence is in fact a demand to have custody of it,” said the ISS consultant.

“Disputes as to whether a motorist has violated the law are readily resolved once it’s clear the licence won’t be returned and the motorist won’t be allowed to proceed until guilt is admitted and the ‘fine’ is paid.”

Other breaches of the law by the police then reportedly follow. 

Zimbabwe’s criminal law formally pays due regard to the separation of powers and police thus have no power to find motorists guilty of traffic offences – that is a judicial function.

The ‘traffic ticket’ issued by police is in fact a notice to appear in court, said Matyszak.

“However, as a convenience to all concerned, the law provides a mechanism by which the court appearance may be avoided by admitting the offence and paying a deposit towards the fine which may be imposed by the courts on receipt of the paperwork from the police."

“It is a constitutional requirement that the fine is paid into the government’s consolidated revenue fund.”

However, all this never happens in practice as the police no longer carry ‘traffic tickets’ that give motorists the choice of either appearing in court, or admitting guilt and paying the deposit towards the fine.

‘Not guilty’ has been removed as an option by the police, who act as judge, jury and executioner.

The usurpation of the judicial function occurs without protest from the courts and the money goes nowhere near central government coffers.

The use of fake receipt books also means that often the money isn’t used to fund police operations either, but is taken as bribes supplementing meagre police pay.

Matyszak said the central government was colluding in this illicit process.

“Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has proposed raising the penalty for minor traffic violations by $10 to $30, and projected amounts accruing from roadblocks (US$60 million) have been officially incorporated in the budget of the home affairs ministry.”

Police stations are given monthly roadblock revenue targets and individual police officers are ordered to raise set amounts daily from fines.

Although the practice is not sanctioned by law, it has been rigorously defended by Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo and the police’s Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri.

Although Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi has joined the chorus of complaints about the situation, the response of Chihuri and Chombo is that the police won’t be deterred from enforcing the law.

After all, Chombo cynically asked, if the motorists are innocent, why do they pay admission of guilt fines?