Fifteen people were arrested at the uMngeni Licensing Office in Howick on Tuesday after investigations uncovered rampant corruption involving officials issuing fraudulent learner’s licences.
A joint operation by the Road Traffic Management Corporation’s (RTMC) National Traffic Anti-Corruption Unit, the Hawks and the KwaZulu-Natal Traffic Department led to the arrest of five officials from the licensing office, including two traffic officers, nine learner’s licence applicants, and a cleaner.
The cleaner was arrested after documents and a large sum of money she allegedly could not account for were found in her possession.
The Hawks are still searching for another senior staff member who was not at work when the other arrests were made.
Simon Zwane, spokesperson for RTMC, told The Witness that the arrests came after investigations that started last year revealed that the
licensing officials at the centre were receiving bribes and issuing fraudulent learner’s licences.
“Applicants are paying R2 300 to obtain their learner’s licences. Apparently when they get into the exam rooms they are assisted by the examiners to pass the exam in a manner that will become clear when we get to court,” said Zwane.
The normal cost of applying for a learner’s licence is R180.
A source alleged that the examiners used lasers covertly to point out the correct answers on the screen for the applicants. The writing centres are monitored by CCTV.
Zwane said nine applicants had sat down to write their tests on Tuesday and after investigations, they found that all nine had been assisted by examiners.
“We are arresting all those involved to send a clear message to the public that enough is enough. Crime doesn’t pay and corruption must be eradicated.
“Eighty percent of road carnage is due to human error. We hope by eliminating such fraudulent activities we will be able to reduce unnecessary road fatalities,” he said.
All operations at the uMngeni municipal offices came to a complete standstill as workers stood outside to stare in amazement as the Hawks and the National Traffic Anti-Corruption Unit officials locked down the licensing office.
The Hawks confiscated all the suspects’ cellphones, the learner’s licences that had already been issued fraudulently and other documents. A firearm was also apparently among the items found in the suspects’ possession.
Crowds of bystanders gathered and watched curiously as the 15 handcuffed suspects were escorted into Hawks vehicles.
Zwane said “there are definitely more arrests imminent as the investigations are still continuing. There will be a process going forward to cancel the documents that we find were obtained in this manner.”
Zwane added that this was the first of many more busts in KwaZulu-Natal as they are investigating other centres in the province.
The spokesperson for the KZN Traffic Department, Kwanele Ncalane, said this was an ongoing campaign to which the MEC had committed in his last budget speech.
“MEC Mxolisi Kaunda had said that we will be focusing on rooting out all elements of fraud and corruption in our testing stations. We believe that this is a major contributor towards road crashes and fatalities, therefore it is important to us to ensure that all people on the road are people who have been tested and passed their necessary tests to be on the roads.”
A member of the public told The Witness that he had taken a day off work on Tuesday to apply to write his learner’s licence test.
“I cannot afford to ask for another day off, my employers will never allow it. I am taking a taxi to Pietermaritzburg to apply at the Mkondeni Licensing Office. I have no other option,” he said.
Ncalane advised the public to use other neighbouring licensing centres as it was still uncertain as to when the Howick centre would be operational again as many of its staff members were arrested on Tuesday. The suspects are expected to appear at Durban Commercial Crimes Court on Thursday.