|Road development, safety key|
|Saturday, 05 May 2012 00:00|
IG: You are visiting Zimbabwe and have travelled to several destinations in the country by road. What is your view regarding the state of roads in Zimbabwe?
PG: Thank you. Zimbabwe just like other African countries has a significant infrastructure deficit. Roads clearly come to mind. This has also been worsened by the development challenges the country has faced in the last 15 or so years.
As a result there haven’t been enough resources to maintain the roads. The carrying capacity of most roads has been exceeded and the rains constantly make them impassable. So road maintenance and development are capital projects actually, which require significant prioritisation from an economy such as ours that is emerging from a decade of severe economic challenges
IG: There has been an outcry of late regarding too many roadblocks. The commuter operators have accused the police of seeking to fundraise through roadblocks
PG: If we are to put away a lot of politics that have gone into this issue, it is not difficult to see that the police are doing their job. We need to look at the issue of roadblocks within the framework of the current financial constraints (whereby there is very little money in the fiscus to carry out major projects such as expansion of roads.
This means we reduce accidents, upgrade the vehicle testing and certifying infrastructure, as well as putting in place more expensive traffic controls such as cameras and speed traps). If the Government doesn’t have resources for all this, then what is the next best alternative in terms of ensuring public safety? It has to rely on that which it has at its disposal. Unfortunately for now, what it has are the police officers who can do the job on the ground.
IG: You have lived in Japan where the public transport system is different. We have the Kombi drivers here who drive badly but still complain about being fleeced by police . . .
PG: Oh, yes! It is also important to note that the complaint from the kombi operators and drivers is not that the police are corrupt at roadblocks (in any case it takes two to tango), but their complaint is against the roadblocks idea including the number of roadblocks.
To date I am not aware of any regulation that stipulates that roadblocks have to be so many metres or kilometres apart. They are mounted at the discretion of the police depending on the situation and reason for which the roadblock is mounted.
IG: Are you then saying that the roadblocks are justified
PG: Ah! A yes or no answer or a justified or unjustified response will not do justice to the issue. Firstly let me say that roadblocks are a means of control and Zimbabwe has always had roadblocks throughout the year. The issue that has been raised has to do with the frequency of these roadblocks on any given stretch of road. The complaints have mainly been coming from commuter operators and in turn the commuters. Accusations that police are fundraising have been thrown around.
But if we are to soberly look at this, one would find that if the police were really fundraising then they were going to do it for each and every motorist. In that way they would actually fundraise much more than they are currently doing as they will be able to tap into a wider pool of motorists. They would stop all motorists and issue tickets. But this is not what is happening.
Let’s not forget that what the police are after is to have roadworthy vehicles transporting the public. Assuming that all the vehicles on our roads are roadworthy, the police will have no business stopping commuter omnibus operators and issuing tickets.
The police has a responsibility to protect the public including protecting the kombi drivers from themselves. It has several tools and means that it can use to achieve this and roadblocks are just one way.
At times Zimbabweans are very good at complaining. When a kombi overturns and kills people, we are all quick to blame the kombi owners saying “vachekeresa vanhu”. We are also quick to blame the police kuti they are not doing enough to protect the motoring public. Now that they are doing their best, let’s all support them.
However, one thing the police need to do more of is to provide more information to the motoring public in terms of the objectives and outcomes of the current operation. The kombi drivers and owners tend to fill this information vacuum through peddling inaccuracies concerning police fundraising.
It is a fact that kombi operators terrorise commuters as well as private road users, through bad driving, lack of courtesy, etc. While the police cannot eradicate all this, it is important that they be seen to be acting where necessary.
IG: What do you think should be done to reduce carnage on our roads?
PG: There are short, medium as well as long term solutions that can be implemented. The short-term solutions include road blocks. We may dispute their efficiency (in terms of after how many kilometres can we have roadblocks) as well as their cost to the motoring public, but what is indisputable is that they are a necessary control mechanism.
They are not meant to be a penal mechanism by a means of enforcing road safety. Roadblocks are essential short term monitoring mechanisms to ensure road safety.
If all motorists including kombi drivers were compliant and self-monitoring in terms of road safety, then it reduces the need for roadblocks as a means of enforcing road security.
What is happening now is because the kombi drivers and operators are failing in terms of self-monitoring. This also means that they are abrogating their duties as Zimbabweans. People need to realise that self-monitoring mechanisms means they have to have their vehicles’ fitness certified, they have to be licenced, etc.
The challenge the commuting public and nation face is, is it better to have more unroadworthy kombis on the road than a few safe ones. Certainly the latter is the most logical option in the interest of protecting the public.
IG: What do you think is the way forward on this issue?
PG: I think as Zimbabweans we ought to think bigger. We need to ask ourselves what role does each one have to play to make our roads safer. Everyone from the pedestrian, motorist, kombi driver, etc has a role to play in terms of making our roads safe.
We also need to look at the bigger picture of how can the above groups support the police to do their job? Considering the current environment where the police are under-resourced and underpaid, the private sector needs to chip in through contributing bicycles, fuel, cars as well as computers and software for use at police stations.
Computer based colleges can also volunteer training time to train the police officers on use of computers as a way of making the jobs efficient.
The motoring public needs to chip in through raising self-monitoring which therefore reduces the need for heavy police presence. On several occasions I have boarded speeding kombis with faulty brakes, where most of the passengers including myself) are terrified and all praying that they arrive safely.
But none of us has had the guts to inform police in-spite the fact that we pass through several roadblocks. Raising self-monitoring means being able to text the kombi details to a police station or even reporting the driver at the earliest sight of a police officer.
Other companies and individuals can also provide security cameras in key places within the city centre as a way of monitoring crime. Actually, the crisis we underwent for the last decade or so has blessed us as Zimbabweans in so many ways. We have a lot of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora who are more than willing to use their connections to leverage technology for the betterment of the country.
Imagine if someone is to donate cameras to monitor major road intersections including commuter omnibus ranks as well as major crime hotspots in town such as the Ximex mall, among others. The cameras will be connected centrally to the charge office or some other headquarters.
This frees human resources in terms of more policemen being available to do other things and ensures that as Zimbabwe we are moving with the times. This can be done at a pilot or small level and can be rolled out once success has been determined. Let us see positive dialogues in the newspapers and media regarding how to develop Zimbabwe, how to capacitate police to protect us better as opposed to the usual toxic political blame games.
The private sector can also help in terms of funding and equipping community police (neighbourhood watch). We also need to revive this where they are dying or underutilised. These could be composed of ordinary community members, retired police and army personnel in a particular area. This will go a long way in easing the burden on police which is currently under-resourced.
All these measures will help improve the police efficiency as well as professionalism in discharging their duties. Thus at the end of the day the challenge is on us as Zimbabweans to support our officers as a national duty.
The security of Zimbabweans in the medium to long term will not be dependent on the presence or absence of police on our roads, or in our communities, but will depend on actions that each one is undertaking individually to ensure that our communities and roads are safe.
Unfortunately issues of roadblocks deflect attention on what each of us is capable of doing in terms of supporting the law enforcement and unfortunately and unfairly focuses attention on the law enforcers (the police). It glosses over the several positive and commendable work the police force has done and is doing countrywide.
At the broader level let’s not forget that an under-equipped and lax police is a threat to investment that a lot of people clamour for. Who would want to invest in a country where the police cannot enforce the law and can be easily intimidated by unruly kombi drivers?
This happens all over the world.