Killer matatus aided by rogue NTSA inspectors

A matatu and truck that were involved in a crash that killed 12 people on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway. [File, Standard]
Public service vehicles are rarely inspected as rogue officials demand kickbacks to issue compliance certificates.

In other instances, only a cursory inspection is done which explains the numerous crashes and rising death toll on the roads.

An investigation by The Standard and KTN News has unearthed the extent of the rot that mainly revolves around the acquisition and installation of fake speed limiters.

We established that the sale of speed governors is a hugely unregulated business open to all, including crooks.

National Transport and Safety Authority Director General George Njao confirmed that there had been an upsurge in road crashes compared to last year.

“We have had a 13.4 per cent spike in accidents in Kenya (this year). This is unacceptable,” Mr Njao said.

Last Monday, six passengers died after their matatu collided with a bus along the Mombasa-Malindi highway.

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Speed was thought to have contributed to the crash, which also claimed the life of the matatu driver.

The six crash victims do not include the 73 who died in the first five days of 2020, according to official statistics from the road safety agency.

NTSA has previously been blamed for the high number of road fatalities, which saw its officials kicked off the roads between January and October last year.

The role of ensuring road safety was handed to the police after the spike in crashes but the traffic officers were found to be no better at addressing the menace.

One reason advanced for the change in guard was that NTSA officials were complacent about their job. The agency is under the ministry of Transport.

Obvious faults

Drivers would pay bribes to officials who would overlook obvious faults in the vehicles such as speed limiters that had been tampered with or removed.

These are the matatus that regularly flout the 80kph speed ceiling despite having been ‘inspected’.

We established that bribery is deeply entrenched in the sector.

To prove the point, our undercover investigation involved fitting speed limiters from unauthorised suppliers before having the vehicles inspected and cleared.

NTSA has approved 44 firms to supply and fit the speed limiters.

The two limiters we fitted were not on the list of approved gadgets. They were also fixed by unauthorised technicians.

The first speed limiter was bought in Thika from a technician working in a dingy back street. There was no sign that this was an NTSA-certified garage.

After paying Sh17,500, we were handed the gadget and directed to a makeshift outlet in Ngara that also sold speed limiters. We found a technician who fixed the governor with the assurance that it would work perfectly.

But it is during the vehicle inspection that the real rot happens.

By offering a small bribe, the inspection date was moved forward by three weeks. This meant other applicants would have a longer wait.

Ordinarily, the vehicle owner books for the inspection through an online portal and chooses the dates and time that works best for them, but subject to availability of slots.

How the officials are able to rig the system and give an earlier date is puzzling. But it suggests that the inspectors rush their work to ensure these applicants are accommodated.

All this is possible because NTSA officials will do anything to help an applicant who plays ball.

The tragedy, however, is that despite the limiters failing to meet the required standards, a compliance certificate is hurriedly issued.

No questions were asked and no inspection took place. It was the same scenario at the NTSA’s main inspection yard along Likoni Road in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.

Agents who we suspect work for the manufacturers of the illegal speed limiters come in handy in ensuring that their gadgets pass inspection, if any takes place.

The vehicle owner only has to pay a ‘facilitation fee’ that will ultimately be passed on to the inspectors.

That is how unsafe vehicles are permitted back on the roads to maim and kill more Kenyans.

The road safety body has, however, said it is working to restore the integrity of the motor vehicle inspection department as well as ensure only approved speed limiters are in use.

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Public service vehiclesNational Transport and Safety Authority