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Spot fines: Greed behind police defiance

AS the debate over traffic offence spot fines — rekindled by High Court judge Justice Bere’s opinion this week that they were patently illegal — there seems to be need for a conclusive legal position to put the nagging matter to bed.

Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja

Ostensibly we require, among other options, a class action that would lend clarity to the legality of such fines for, as pointed out in a statement by the ZRP, Bere’s comments are not legally binding expressed as they were outside a court of law.

But what the police appear to have conveniently ignored is the existence of a 2012 High Court determination pithily rendering forced spot fines illegal.

Sitting as a Court of Appeal, Justices Lawrence Kamocha and Maphios Cheda ruled motorists should have a reasonable period within which to pay fines for traffic offences “unless the said offender elects to pay the fine on the spot”.

“A police officer cannot and should not insist on a spot fine on the basis that he is not in possession of a ticket book which ticket book is a necessary administrative toll for executing duties,” they stated.

You would imagine this sufficiently clears the air as to make the emotive spot fine debate clearly pitting the police in one corner and the rest of the nation in another, a close chapter.

This has not been the case, however, the source of the police’s voluntary or selective amnesia on the Kamocha/Cheda ruling is easy to locate.

Cops insist on spot fines because they have permission to keep what they collect to finance their operations at a time of shrinking allocations from Treasury.

What better way to harvest as much cash as possible from motorists than through increasing roadblocks, insisting on spot fines and giving traffic officers daily targets as is currently the case?
Does the setting of targets not suggest roadblocks are primarily for fundraising as opposed to law enforcement, the police’s raison d’etre?

Thus police are prickly over the subject of spot fines and vehicle impounding. None other than Zimra boss Gershem Pasi evoked a withering rejoinder from the police who described him as “ignorant”, a peddler of falsehoods and a failure for suggesting the police were collecting US$3 million–US$7 million monthly from spot fines.

Tellingly, police failed to reveal the correct figures.

The multiplicity of roadblocks make the police susceptible to corruption as frequent complaints over officers soliciting for bribes prove. In any case, given the financial crunch in a sinking economy, why should motorists be expected to have cash on their person all the time?

Besides, by insisting on spot fines the payment of which amounts to admission of guilt, police are depriving the accused of recourse to the courts.

The argument police lack the manpower to make follow-ups on tickets is not the motorist’s problem.

It is trite that the police are not above the law. They thus also need to observe the rule of law by ensuring their vehicles are roadworthy (many do not appear to be) before dishing out tickets to traffic offenders.

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