Traffic Police Corruption: The On-the-Spot Fines
April 16, 2016
On-the-spot traffic violation fines in Sudanese traffic law can act as waivers to avoid appearing in court, granted by traffic police to those who commit traffic violations not involving death, injury or damage to others’ vehicles or properties. The waiver allows the violator to pay a certain amount of money to avoid appearing before the traffic court. However, the offer is not binding for the violator, who has the right to request a day in court.
All of the Sudanese traffic laws have included clauses that reference these on-the-spot fines, including clause 48 of the Traffic Act of 1983, which was later annulled, and clause 67 of the current Act of 2010. The 2010 Act grants the Minister of Interior, after consulting with the Attorney General and the Minister of Finance, the right to issue rules that regulate on-the-spot fines. The regulations have classified traffic violations and corresponding on-the-spot-fines into three categories, as follows:
- First degree violations: the on-the-spot fine for this type of violation is 100 Sudanese Pounds (SDG). It includes driving without a permit, driving with faulty brakes or with the lights turned off at night, or for not using the seat belt on expressways.
- Second degree violations: the on-the-spot fine for this type of violation is 75 SDG. This type of violation includes exceeding the speed limit, allowing passengers to ride outside of the vehicle (on the roof or on stepping rails on the side), non-compliance with the maximum load regulations, painting the vehicle a different color without a permit from the traffic authorities.
- Third degree violations: the on-spot-fine for this type of violation is 50 SDG. This type includes violation of traffic rules on city roads or having more than the permitted number of occupants in the vehicle.
The adoption of these different categories was basically intended to avoid taking these traffic violations to court and hence reduce the time burden on the court and the violators. However, in practice, traffic police undermine these objectives and instead use these regulations to generate more financial revenue for the traffic police department and the government in general. This is particularly true after the adoption of an internal regulation that allocates 10% of the revenue generated by traffic police officers as incentives. Because of these financial benefits, to maximize their 10% incentive, traffic police scaled up the number of check points on all major and secondary roads.
Another deviation from the letter and spirit of these traffic regulations is when traffic police request and negotiate for violators to pay them an amount of money less than the scheduled on-the-spot fine, in exchange for letting them get away with violations. Moreover, when violators pay the official on-the-spot fine, and receive a receipt, they are protected from further questioning on the same offense for 24 hours. Thus, significant aspects of traffic laws, intended to guarantee the safety of drivers, passengers, pedestrians and properties, are obscured. In other words, the traffic police are more concerned with collecting fines, whether for their own personal benefit or their department, rather than applying measures that would ensure the safety of the drivers and others.
In the mid-90s, these illicit practices reached a peak when the traffic police stopped depositing the funds collected through the on-the-spot fines to the Judicial Authorities, and moreover started to print their own financial forms, using different colors for each category of violations, against the rules, regulations and policies of the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance protested this action and was eventually able to oblige the traffic police to use the officially recognized form (Form 15) for accountability.
Here are some examples that testify to this type of corruption:
A bus driver, N. A., who drive a minibus for public transportation between the center of a town and close by neighborhoods, does not possess a “public driving license” which permits him to carry passengers in his minibus, only a “private driving license”. If caught by the traffic police, the driver must pay the on-the-spot fine of 100 SDG as stated in the rules. However, to avoid this hefty fine, he only pays covertly 20 SDG whenever stopped by the traffic police for this violation. He added that, since he passes through the same check points and police officers, they then won’t bother him for at least 24 hours.
A second example is the case of G. M., also a minibus driver who transports passengers between Khartoum, the capital city, and nearby villages adjacent to the highway. The traffic laws prohibit carrying passengers in a minibus on the highway without prior authorization. However, G. M. continues to transport passengers in his minibus without this authorization on daily basis after he pays 20 or 30 SDG to the traffic police officers at the check points.
A third example is the case of A. A., who was driving to Khartoum to renew his expired vehicle registration, when he was pulled off the road by traffic police. The driver tried to assure the police officer that he was on the way to renew the registration, but the officer insisted on issuing him a ticket for the violation. However, the driver negotiated with the officer and convinced him to take 30 SDG instead of issuing an on-the-spot fine for the violation that would have cost 100 SDG.
An overall perspective on these corrupt practices came from the traffic police itself. A retired traffic police officer, on condition of anonymity, said that when he was on duty (before migrating to the oil-rich Gulf Region), he negotiated with violators for payment that was less than the on-the-spot fine. In return for such payment, the officer would not issue violation tickets to the drivers. He added that some officers pocket between 250 to 300 SDG a day from these illegal practices. High ranking officers receive a higher share, though they do not directly participate in the negotiations with violators. He blamed these corrupt practices on the low salaries that police officers receive despite the dangerous and hard work they are doing.
The above examples clearly illustrate how low salaries of the traffic police, combined with a lack of strong discipline and monitoring mechanisms, have paved the way for the existence of such corrupt practices. In terms of the lack of monitoring, senior officers, when assigned to supervise check points, often stay in their police vehicle instead of standing closer to their subordinates who handle all the details of the check point operation. So tasks such as; reviewing the vehicle’s and driver’s papers, checking whether the vehicle meets safety standards, assessing the type and gravity of violation, were left to junior police officers who are more likely to undermine these legal process.
There is no doubt these corrupt practices have multilayered negative impacts on the government performance and revenue, the police’s reputation and the citizens’ safety. However, the danger that the drivers, passengers, pedestrians and properties are exposed to due to these corrupt practices is the most serious of all. Allowing drivers to continue driving poorly and/or with defective vehicles, after paying the on-the-spot fines, puts the lives of many people in danger. To address this deficiency in the traffic law, amendments are required that prohibit driving such vehicles. Furthermore, pocketing the on-the-spot fines by traffic police deprive the government of an important source of revenue, and such practices erode the necessary trust between the traffic police and citizens.
In addition to the legal remedy, mentioned above, the government should introduce an electronic system for the collection of the on-the-spot fines at each check point to reduce the possibility of collecting fines for personal benefit. It is also important to delink incentives that traffic police officers receive from revenue collected through the on-the-spot fines.