THE Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)’s decision to transfer 33 traffic police officers from its Avondale Police Station to remote stations for alleged corruption is a welcome development coming as it does after persistent reports of graft in the force, but questions over whether the punishment meted out is commensurate with the crime linger.
A local daily stated last Friday: “Thirty-three traffic police officers at Avondale Police Station in Harare have been transferred to other bases allegedly because of intolerable corruption levels.”
According to the paper, the final straw for the organisation was when one of the Avondale police officers solicited a US$50 bribe from a motorist, which resulted in the 33-member traffic unit being disbanded last Wednesday.
In 2010, about 78 police officers at the station were reportedly transferred “after their bosses got fed up with their conduct”.
Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri has often slammed corruption in the force, frequently stating that it would not be tolerated in the organistaion.
He was quoted in 2012 at a pass-out parade in Harare saying: “We utterly condemn any form of corruption, and shall continue to invoke the wrath of the law to completely destroy this cancerous social scourge. Let me remind officers and members of the force that we have zero tolerance to corruption.”
The incident at Avondale gives Chihuri an opportunity to walk-the-talk on corruption.
Officially opening the 13th Zanu-PF national conference in Gweru in 2012, President Robert Mugabe said: “Mapurisa (police), mapurisa, mapurisa. We want you to be straightforward people. You are representatives not only of government, but of the people as a whole. If you want to be paid to do your job, then you are practising corruption and you cannot boast of having a well-disciplined police.”
Police, Mugabe said, were stopping motorists on the roads and demanding bribes — something many motorists regularly complain about.
However, responding to public concerns about the transfer of the Avondale police officers, police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba dismissed claims that the move was due to alleged corruption.
“While any allegation of corruption or any other form of misdemeanour or crime by a police officer is fully investigated, it does not follow that the transfer of the officer(s) and in this particular case, in purported big numbers, shows that they are corrupt. That is not the case,” she said. “Transfers are one form of measures implemented by the police command, among others, to ensure that there is no over familiarisation by police officers within a certain policing area. May we, therefore, make it clear that the transfers were very much normal and are or were meant to add value to policing.”
Social commentators this week said simply transferring police officers to other stations is not good enough when there is evidence of “intolerable corruption levels”.
Bulawayo-based social commentator Godwin Phiri said “if this (transfer) is a punishment, then it certainly does not fit the crime”.
Phiri said the ZRP and government have not only lost a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the sceptical public that they are indeed serious about reining in errant law enforcement agents.
Transparency International Zimbabwe chairperson Loughty Dube said Zimbabwe is not serious about dealing with the scourge of corruption.
“Corruption in any form is a dismissible offence, but worryingly, this does not appear to be the case in Zimbabwe,” Dube said. “By simply transferring allegedly corrupt officers, all the ZRP is saying to them is that you can be corrupt, but you have to do it far away in a remote area where the spotlight does not fall on you.”
Furthermore, ordinary Zimbabweans are asking who will guard the guards if such behaviour can be treated with the proverbial kid gloves.
In many countries, especially the more advanced democracies with developed economies, damning revelations of improper conduct such as those at Avondale would certainly have caused heads to roll.
“It is simply not enough to just transfer or push people to retire as has happened in (police commissioner Oliver) Chibage’s case,” said Phiri. “People just have to be fired and prosecution should follow. Simply transferring corrupt officials amounts to transferring corruption to another area.”
Late last year, Chibage was accused of using Chihuri’s name to fleece people and companies of their money. Instead of the police chief taking action on the issue, Chibage was sent on forced leave in October pending retirement on December 31 from the force he had served for 33 years.
Even the language used then by Charamba suggested that the ZRP did not think it necessary to deal with him in a firmer and much more decisive manner that would serve as a deterrent to would-be offenders.
Charamba was quoted as saying: “We wish to advise them as follows, that the action taken by the police is commensurate to the involvement of the said officers. The organisation has no policy of over-killing, a matter of pandering to the whims of the hard-hearted who would want to see a mountain falling and burying Chibage.”
Her statement suggests corruption is not a scourge the police take seriously despite Chihuri’s protestations.
“The message is simply that there are levels of corruption that are acceptable, but it is only when you cross a certain line that the powers that be must be seen to take action, which in any event is not as serious as to send shivers down the spine of a potential offender,” said local analyst Alexander Rusero said:
Rusero also said it is possible that the relatively “benign punishment” meted on the officers could have been out of the realisation that labour laws in the country make it difficult to just fire people or take more drastic action even if they are widely perceived to be corrupt.