A crackdown on corruption within the traffic police unit has been underway for months, and now a leading officer in the operation claims that at least 800 traffic police officers have been nabbed taking bribes and are to face disciplinary action.
The pressure to act on errant officers who take bribes, highly placed sources within the police force say, has been exerted by President Museveni, who in the recent past has reportedly received consistent reports that traffic police officers extort money from motorists.
Only last month, President Museveni directed that traffic police officers be taken off highways except in areas where they directly help to smoothen the flow of traffic.
Acting on the directive, the police’s director for Traffic and Road Safety, Dr Steven Kasiima, on December 14 sent out an order that would take immediate action.
Dr Kasiima’s message read in part: “All personnel must be in office as per the programme ready to respond to incidents and only be on the road while conducting operations sanctioned by police headquarters and supervised physically by the district police commanders, regional traffic officers and officers-in-charge.”
Also, Dr Kasima recently appointed Assistant Commissioner of Police Charles Ssebambulidde to chair the Traffic Unit Court, which is expected to open soon to try traffic police officers, especially for taking bribes.
Mr Moses Mutabingwa, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, heads the Traffic Alert Squad that is directly battling corruption in the traffic police unit, particularly taking bribes from motorists.
“Since inception, we have arrested at least 800 traffic officers of various ranks throughout the country while receiving bribes.
At first, we would send them back to be redeployed in less tempting areas, but right now we have compiled files for them to be charged in unit disciplinary courts,” Mr Mutabingwa told Sunday Monitor on Thursday.
His almost one-man squad was formed in 2014 following prolonged criticism of the traffic police unit by President Museveni.
In one of the many incidents he underlined, President Museveni said it had been reported to him that a truck from Gulu to Kampala had been stopped five times and on all occasions traffic police officers would be bribed to let the truck proceed.
Mr Mutabingwa says he acts on complaints from members of the public, and in some cases he has made traffic officers to refund the money to the motorists.
Brandishing 22 files that he says are ready for disciplinary court, Mr Mutabingwa explains that he does not just arrest people without seeing them taking bribes from members of the public.
“I am not interested in all the money a traffic officer has; I am only interested in the one I see him receiving [a bribe],” he explains at his office in Nateete, Kampala.
On each of the files, Mr Mutabingwa has attached money as evidence of officers being caught in the act of taking bribes.
In the course of fighting corruption in the directorate, Mr Mutabingwa says he has observed that traffic police officers usually slap fake charges on unsuspecting drivers to extort money from them.
He notes that though the law allows traffic police officers to warn errant motorists, issue express penalty scheme (EPS) tickets or take them to court, the majority prefer to ‘warn’ the drivers.
“Some of these warnings are never warnings at all, but a gimmick to extort money.
Instead of issuing EPS tickets, some negotiate for a better bribe, especially for cases such as driving without a permit or speeding.
Traffic officers ask for a fraction of the penalty to let drivers go scot-free, causing government to lose revenue.
When most drivers see what is at stake, they opt to bribe the traffic policemen so that they are set free,” Mr Mutabingwa says.
Each of these offences fetches a fine of Shs200,000.
He adds: “That’s is why I am working alone because if there are more people involved in investigating such cases, it will lose meaning.”
He has a compilation of video clips that show traffic police officers taking bribes on highways.
In one of the videos that went viral, Mr Mutabingwa is seen arresting a police officer in Busembatia who had taken bribes from motorists.
The officer is seen trying to take back his notebook from Mr Mutabingwa.
Mr Mutabingwa says this particular officer was transferred from traffic police to regular police work, and was later arrested over a robbery.
Mr Mutabingwa urged members of the public to report any incidents of traffic police officers taking bribes on his telephone number, 0713215704 for voice calls, and 0702647468 for WhatsApp.
Caught on camera
Bribes: In some of the clips Mr Moses Mutabingwa, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, who heads the Traffic Alert Squad that is directly battling corruption in the traffic police unit, played for this newspaper, a number of traffic police officers are seen taking money. The videos were shot before and during arrest of the men in white.
The videos show traffic officers using different methods to conceal money, including head dress, money wrapped in a polythene bag and placed under a pack of Irish potatoes on the roadside.
Tricks used. One shows money put in a polythene bag in someone’s compound, another has money concealed in used cigarette packets dropped by the roadside.
In another video clip, money is hidden in beacon lights attached to their motorcycles, and in another video money is hidden in the bush from where a policeman picks it later.
In some videos shot during arrest, some officers are seen trying to throw away money as their superiors approach.
One policewoman is seen on her knees pleading with the arresting party to forgive her after she was found receiving a bribe from a motorist.
By Daily Monitor