Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Officially, traffic police’s stop-nitpick-and-fine operation doesn’t exist

Even as traffic police continue to rake in between P1.5 million and P2 million a week, the long-running operation through which they do so doesn’t officially exist.

Appearing before parliament’s Public Accounts Committee last year, the Commissioner of the Botswana Police Services, Keabetswe Makgophe, denied that the police were undertaking any national operation for which he had set targets. From what police sources tell Sunday Standard, the target is P10 000 a day for each police station.

“I have not set any such targets. The reality is that people are dying on the roads and we want to put that to a stop. What we have done is to intensify and increase our visibility,” said Makgophe in response to a question from the Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament, Dithapelo Keorapetse, with regard to whether he (Makgophe) ever issued an instruction that specified said target.

The Commissioner was the one who revealed the week’s earnings from the fines.

Government is a nationwide behemoth that doesn’t operate by word of mouth and each one of its official decisions, processes and systems are expressed in writing. Good luck though to finding any document anywhere that details an operation through which traffic police are required to stop motorists, nitpick the roadworthiness of their vehicles with a view to finding a fault they can fine motorists for. Good sources tell Sunday Standard that while he ordinarily communicates instructions to his subordinates in writing, Makgophe chose to be circumspect when it came to what is essentially a fund-raising project.

“There was never any written instruction. Senior police officers were given a verbal instruction which they, in turn, communicated to their juniors in similar fashion. The result is that nothing exists in black and white about this operation. Officially, it doesn’t exist,” says a source.

If indeed Makgophe didn’t set any target, the story should be about a highly unusual telepathic phenomenon in which all 80 police stations across Botswana started a long-running fundraising operation on the same day, gunning for a similar target. Police officers are themselves uneasy with the operation because they see it as being more about fundraising than law enforcement. They also question the wisdom of setting a uniform target for stations that serve vastly different population sizes. That has led to another problem in which money-making completely trumps policing. Officers in Kang are said to be targeting Trans-Kalahari Highway motorists because it is impossible to reach the target by focussing on the village alone.

It remains unclear what the connection is but policing under President Ian Khama has had some controversial turns. In his inaugural presidential address on April 1, 2008, Khama cited “reckless driving on our roads” among “some of the social problems in our society that we need to address as a nation.” Shortly thereafter, traffic policing became unorthodox. In Gaborone ÔÇô possibly elsewhere in the country, officers disguised as grasscutters would position themselves at traffic lights to espy on motorists who ran red lights. On spotting an infraction, they would whip out two-way radios from their government-issue overalls and promptly communicate with uniformed officers who would have mounted a roadblock not too far off to stop offenders. However, just like the offending motorists, the plainclothes officers were themselves breaking the law because the Road Traffic Act states that traffic officers enforcing it must be properly uniformed. In the past, President Ian Khama has stated that unlike other government departments, the police have been given permission to use revenue raised through fines to buy vehicles and equipment.

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