HomeCommentRoadblocks used as means of extortion

Roadblocks used as means of extortion

IT is almost a month after President Robert Mugabe ordered the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to reduce the number of roadblocks, saying they were becoming an inconvenience to motorists and travellers.

Candid Comment: Faith Zaba
fzaba@zimind.co.zw

Faith Zaba
Faith Zaba

Despite Mugabe’s call, the ZRP, colloquially referred to as the Zimbabwe Revenue Police, have not let up. Instead, the Home Affairs ministry announced this week that roadblocks would be reduced to four per province, but numerous spot checks within cities and towns would remain, the typical definition of a damp squib.

A decisive solution is essential to resolve the issue of numerous roadblocks, highway traffic patrols and checkpoints, over which there is a public outcry as they are synonymous with extortion and bribery. The roadblocks are not only inconveniencing motorists on our local and national roads, but also tarnishing the image of the police who are now viewed in some quarters as an organised extortionist syndicate. That the police demand money for a plethora of frivolous things, including torn seats and a car being dirty, indicates how the practice has entrenchened corruption. Among the functions of the police are to prevent crime, protect property from malicious damage, protect lives and apprehend offenders. Sadly, in Zimbabwe, the focus is on victimising motorists and roadblocks have become money-spinning ventures.

Police officers carrying metal spikes to puncture tyres, endangering the lives of motorists, have become commonplace. Are numerous spot checks, in some instances three or four along an 800 -metre stretch, necessary? One would think the country is in a state of emergency. Tourists are not spared the harassment in a country where the police have criminalised driving.

While we understand that police have a duty to ensure safety on the roads, roadblocks lose essence when they become synonymous with fundraising. Police must be funded properly through the fiscus. They should not generate money through extortion. To make it worse, the revenue collected each day is never properly accounted for. Some is fattening individual pockets.

Ironically, the same police force reacts slowly to crime, at times demanding that the complainant picks up the cops or provides fuel for them to investigate. This issue needs intervention by all relevant authorities — lawmakers, the executive, citizens through activism and state institutions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. A holistic approach is urgently required to deal with this cancerous scourge in the police. The law itself must be clear on what police are able or not able to do when it comes to spot fines. Not only have the police become extortionists, but also continue to act unlawfully in contravention of a February High Court ruling which declared spot fines unconstitutional. So if the police can ignore a High Court ruling, how then can they enforce the country’s laws and compel people to abide by them? This is impunity at its worst. The sprouting of roadblocks, stop checks and highway traffic patrols like mushrooms must just stop, period!

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