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Matatu operators seek digitised system to end extortion by police

By Pkemoi Ng'enoh | May 7th 2022 | 5 min read
By Pkemoi Ng'enoh | May 7th 2022
When President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore used their cards to pay for a ride after registering for the new cashless payment system for public service vehicles at State House, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Chairman of the Matatu Welfare Association, Dickson Mbugua, has said the introduction of a digitised fine-collection system for traffic offenders will help stem runaway corruption by traffic police and county officials.

While speaking to The Saturday Standard, Mr Mbugua accused officers from the traffic police department, and county askaris, faulting them for uncontrolled extortion of Public Service Vehicles (PSV).

“The day-to-day operations of a PSV almost yields zero. The investment project return does not break even, leave alone anything to sustain operations,” said Mr Mbugua.

He noted that due to constant and unnecessary traffic ‘operations’, matatus are forced to use alternative routes to avoid police roadblocks. For places with no alternative routes, the matatus are forced to stop and give a bribe.

“If you don’t comply, your vehicle is impounded and arraigned in court with several trumped-up charges, which culminates into excess of Sh100,000 fines or sometimes being put behind bars,” said Mr Mbugua.

Several drivers have said most of the time, they prefer using alternative routes to avoid traffic police, in the process causing gridlocks and wasting valuable time.

Investigations by The Saturday Standard reveal that on some routes, there are daily, weekly and even monthly fees paid by PSV operators to traffic officers. The fees range between Sh50 and Sh100 every day on each roadblock.

The Association says the vice has led to losses that have occasioned a drop in the number of PSVs operating in Nairobi from 18,000 to 16,000.

Matatu crew and investors paint the picture of a sector that has now turned into a cash cow for officers manning various routes.

The investors claim apart from the instant bribes on the roads, matatu saccos are also required to pay a certain fee on daily and monthly basis so as to be allowed to operate.

County traffic marshals, commonly known as kanjo, have also joined the fray and are stationed at various spots around the city centre to collect their share.

A manager in one of the matatu saccos plying the city centre-Ngong’ route, which has 10 Saccos with a total of around 200 vehicles, revealed that the vice is deep-seated. 

“Every matatu parts with Sh1,000 protection fee per week and those that don’t comply end up in trouble,” he said, adding that this translates to a loss of about Sh48,000 per year.

For a route with 200 vehicles, it means the route operators lose around Sh9.6 million per year. 

“Roughly, matatus plying Ngong’ road alone lose Sh104 million per year, minus the amount that we pay on a daily basis,” said the manager.

The effect is that indiscipline has crept back on city roads as traffic police relax the rules to maximise on cash flow.

“That is why you will find some vehicles operating without necessary documents, disrespecting passengers because saccos now do the work police are supposed to be doing,” said another sacco manager.

But Ngong’ road is not the only affected route. Jogoo road has about 11 saccos, Kangundo road has five while Juja road/Dandora has six. Ongata Rongai route has eight saccos and Waiyaki way/Kikuyu route has six saccos.

Along Jogoo road, The Saturday Standard independently established five spots where police and askaris flag down matatus to give bribes. 

The spots are at Donholmn stage, Hamza, Posta stage, City Stadium and OTC. Operators said the officers stop vehicles on the various spots between 6am to 9am.

At OTC and St Peter’s stage, officers often scramble to board vehicles as passengers alight.

“We part with Sh50 to Sh100 on the spot when one is flagged down by the officers. Jogoo road is ever on gridlock because PSVs squeeze into the inner lane to avoid the police,” a driver on the route said.

Another official in a sacco plying the Kayole-city centre route with 300 vehicles claimed they pay a daily one-off fee of Sh100 per vehicle.

“An officer stationed at Donholm collecting the cash from vehicles from our sacco gets about Sh3,000 per day. In five days, they collect Sh15,000 and for a month it comes to Sh60,000. In a year they collect Sh720,000 from our sacco alone,” said the official.

Matatus plying Dandora-city centre route have opted to change route, connecting via Thika Superhighway at the Allsops junction to avoid police at the Juja junction.

“Juja road all the way to Pangani junction has about four spots where police show up, mostly from 6am to 9am, and that is why most of the vehicles join Thika road through Allsops,” a driver on the route said.

It has also emerged that there are individuals enlisted by police to collect money discreetly on behalf of the officers.

On Kangundo road, some young men were recently captured on video collecting the tips on behalf of police who were controlling traffic nearby.

The rogue practice has now been normalised in the transport sector. Police bosses admit that it exists, but fault PSV users for not producing evidence to facilitate prosecution of errant cops.

Police spokesperson Bruno Shioso said the habit is unacceptable, even as Nairobi Traffic Commandant Joshua Omukata insisted the Service has been taking action against officers found collecting bribes.

Mr Omukata said the biggest challenge is when members of public complain about corruption on the roads, but do not produce evidence to support their claims.

Mr Omukata said it would be easy to take action if evidence is produced, stating that corruption is a serious matter.

“If you witness an officer collecting bribes, report to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations offices, or to police stations and sub-county police officers,” said Mr Omukata.

Matatu Welfare Association chairman believes that the rotten culture will only be eliminated through digitisation of instant fine payments to the Judiciary.

However, some PSV operators who are also members of the Association believe that the bribes given to police facilitate smooth operation.

“Corruption is deeply rooted in almost all sectors and the tip we give to police officers enhances a good relationship. They are like normal tips in bar or hotels,” said a sacco manager who operates a fleet plying city centre–Ongata Rongai route.

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