Licences: bribery the norm

2014-12-29 00:00

RAMPANT bribery and corruption in many KZN licensing centres has made it nearly impossible for new drivers to get their licences honestly.

Acting in close concert with traffic officers, driving school instructors have carved out a lucrative racket.

The scheme, which allows for the seamless issuing of a driver’s licence even though the applicant has failed, is considered a back-channel criminal enterprise.

A Witness investigation, conducted over several weeks, revealed that crooked testers in Pietermaritzburg and Durban were responsible for hundreds of fraudulently issued licences.

A source who operates a Durban-based driving school and requested anonymity, said it was almost impossible to catch those responsible.

“Driving school teachers and driving school inspectors don’t usually do on-site transactions. They have relationships with each other where money changes hands prior to the test or after it is done,” he said.

“It’s very easy for driving schools and inspectors to work together and not get caught out; the easiest way to find the corruption is through the driving schools,” he said.

An officer from the Mkondeni licensing centre, who asked not to be named, confirmed that officers were often plied with bribes.

Former Pietermaritzburg Traffic Police head James Mills said bribery in the licensing department is rife.

“There certainly is a lot of bribery and corruption involved with the driver licensing system both by driving instructors and examiners for driver’s licences.

“It has been an ongoing problem going way back and even during my career period when I was involved in undercover operations to find out who the culprits were and to bring them to justice.”

Mills appealed to learner drivers to be aware of the bribery and urged them to secure licences in an honest manner.

“Contraventions of traffic laws are rampant with ineffective or no enforcement of the serious offences that cause accidents by the traffic officers. I am very concerned about the carnage and loss of life on our roads even though I am no longer employed as a traffic chief,” said Mills.

Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesperson Zinhle Mngomezulu said applicants who chose to bribe officers placed the lives of road users in danger.

“They pose a danger to other motorists with their driving not being perfect and not being reliable which makes our roads more dangerous.

“We have heard rumours about it and know the minister is putting in major steps to combat bribery so that motorists are safe,” said Mngomezulu.

Automobile Association spokesperson Marius Luyt said he knew there was a problem with bribery in the licensing department and an investigation needed to be conducted.

“This is very concerning, as from a road safety perspective it does not only put the driver’s life in danger, but also other road users.”

He said there should be stricter law enforcement and advocacy around the dangers of putting someone in the driver’s seat who does not have experience or know the rules of the road.

“The new road safety regulations should be more strongly enforced, through a special oversight body that focuses on driving schools,” said Luyt.

A woman who paid R1 500 for her licence at the Rossburgh testing ground earlier this year said her transaction was done on-site.

“The driving school teacher took the money from me that morning and wrapped it in a KFC serviette and put it in the glove box of the car I used for my test.

“We used a private vehicle because of the recording devices in official RTI cars,” she said.

The woman said it was suggested by her driving school she pay a bribe to secure her licence.

“My driving school teacher said I was good at driving and was not a danger to others on the road but suggested I paid the bribe because I might be failed because I didn’t pay,” she said.

A UKZN student who could not be named said he was advised by his driving school instructor to carry a “cold drink”, a term used to describe a bribe.

He said the “cold drink” could be between R1 200 and R1 500, depending on the driving school and the inspector.

According to a Corruption Watch 2014 report, Gauteng is leading in licence bribery, followed by KZN. Spokesperson Ronald Menoe said a small number of reports indicate that a driver’s licence can be obtained without actually taking the test, but the majority detail how they still need to take part in the test in order to get the licence.

“Bribes range from about R800 in Gauteng, to R4 500 in KwaZulu-Natal, although the average amount requested is between R1 500 and R2 500,” Menoe said.

He said a driver’s pass is guaranteed if they pay a bribe and bribes are solicited from applicants in three ways.

•The first involves the complicity of driving instructors, whereby drivers are instructed by driving schools to pay a bribe.

•The second involves a common understanding between driving instructors and officials, whereby money is placed in the cubby of the vehicle prior to the start of the test, and an official collects this money during the vehicle inspection phase of the test.

•The last method involves a direct solicitation by the official when the applicant is already in the vehicle, mostly once the applicant has left the parking yard.

“Where bribes are directly solicited from drivers, reporters have noted that particular language is being employed.

“Reporters have indicated that bribes are often referred to as ‘cool-drink money’ or ‘sugar’ or a ‘fee’.”

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