Rotten apples at RTI

2013-08-10 00:00

ALLEGATIONS of widespread bribery at the Mkondeni driver’s licence testing station in Pietermaritzburg have been uncovered by a Weekend Witness investigation. It appears that the going rate to buy a licence is between R1 000 and R1 500.

The investigation was prompted by a reader who wrote that her cousin had undergone a test last week and failed because she did not have the bribe money.

The reader, who did not want to be named in case her family is victimised, has provided details for the authorities. She said her cousin did not have the money because she was unemployed. Her driving school instructor had asked her to organise the money to ensure that she passed. Not having the bribe meant instant failure.

“Lessons at a driving school are very expensive, plus the money you pay for hiring their car for the test and, of course, the money you pay at Mkondeni for the test. As if that is not enough, people are still expected to bribe. Someone needs to put a stop to this greed,” the reader wrote.

The investigative team knew of people in their own circle who had paid a bribe. They went out and interviewed many more and gathered a mass of anecdotal evidence showing that the practice appears to be quite widespread. They found collusion between certain driving schools and inspectors. The going rate is R1 500. The money in most cases is given to the driving instructor and is either paid at the entrance to the inspector; left on the floor of the car or paid at another venue. The hopeful learner driver is warned not to fail in the yard as this would mean automatic disqualification. However, if the learner driver makes it out onto the road, no matter how many mistakes are made they return and get their licence.

The Weekend Witness team learned that for most young people, having to pay a bribe is accepted as a given [see boxes for their stories].

Democratic Alliance member of the Provincial Legislature Radley Keys has been campaigning to address the issue of alleged bribery at the Mkondeni testing grounds. His campaign was sparked last year when a family member was asked for a bribe.

“I told him over my dead body would you get a licence in such a manner. He had to go three times before he got his licence.”

Keys said he brought this up with the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) and a level of investigation was instituted.

“We found that it was difficult to catch these guys. The arrangement is between certain corrupt driving schools and certain traffic officers. For the most part the money is not handed over anywhere near the testing grounds, but in different places elsewhere,” he said.

Driving schools canvassed either said they were not aware of the problem or that they did know about it. One said it was a very competitive market and it seems to be known by word of mouth which instructors will get you a licence through a bribe.

For Keys, the outcome of this corruption is that many drivers on the roads are not competent.

“Last month there were 135 accidents in this province. Having incompetent drivers is a contributory factor. All of this is a recipe for murder,” he said.

Keys said senior officers in charge are aware of the problem and are working on ways to catch the culprits. He said what was needed was a task team with teeth to tackle the problem.

In a statement sent to Weekend Witness the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa said that paying bribes for licences severely impacted on the quality of driving and safety on the roads. The AA called on government at all levels to take the issue very seriously and introduce systems to break the cycle of bribery.

“As part of this the AA is a firm supporter of the proposed legislative changes that will bring in a provisional licence with strict conditions for new drivers — this will assist in avoiding corruption as an official process will need to be followed to obtain a licence,” the statement said.

According to the AA, there are various routes that the public can follow to report bribery. A report can be made to the anti-corruption services of the municipality where the incident took place. Calls can be made to the Road Traffic Management hotline on 0861 400 800. A criminal case can also be opened against the relevant official at any police station.

The KZN Department of Transport was contacted for comment, but no response had been received by the newspaper by the time of publication.

JEAN: I was told outright by my instructor that I would need bribe money. At the testing grounds, before I even started, the inspector greeted me and asked if I had “imali yokuhleka.” I said yes, he smiled and said we can begin with the testing. After the test I was told that I must pretend as if I was taking something from the floor and place the money down. I did as I was told. Both my instructor and the inspector warned me not to say a word. This must stay between me and the traffic official.

NTOMBI: A student, she was told by her driving instructor that she would need R1 500 for the bribe. “On the day of the test I gave the money to my driving instructor. I was told it was important that I passed in the testing ground and make no mistakes because then he could not give me my licence as the people around would see what I did wrong … but the vehicle rolled in the testing ground. The instructor gave me back my bribe money.”

BEN: Passed in the testing ground and went out on the road. The officer was very lenient with him and overlooked his mistakes. “He even talked me through the test if I forgot something or made a mistake. He corrected me and made me start again. I remember seeing the officer and my instructor going together to the toilets in the testing ground. I assume this was where the money was exchanged,” he said.

• Names have been changed.

THERE is a case currently under way in the Eshowe Regional Court involving 20 accused implicated in driver’s licence bribery at the Mandeni testing grounds. The accused include eight traffic officers and three clerks, as well as nine driving school instructors who operated in the area. They have been charged with racketeering under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. The traffic officers also face fraud charges. The state claims that driving licence applicants were not examined or tested, test sheets were fraudulently completed, and licences were issued to people not competent to drive a vehicle. The driving school owners/instructors are also charged with corruption.

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