Corruption had become a way of life for many in Zimbabwe before the Government change in November last year, with very few doing much to stop it. Now action is being taken. The latest is in that dreadful swamp at the Vehicle Inspection Department and the testing of drivers and issuing of certificates of competence, effectively the licensing of drivers.
It was well-known that the well connected and those prepared to pay bribes could get a driver’s licence easily and quickly, with stories doing the rounds that some were licensed without even taking the test. Certain driving instructors at some driving schools were a central part of the racket.
Interestingly, the majority involved in the racket were halfway honest; they would not grant a licence to someone they thought had failed the test. But they would not grant licences to those who passed until there were many repeats or until the banknotes had passed from driver to instructor to examiner. Even some of those who passed while asleep at home on the day of the “test” were often adequately competent, certified by their teacher, although the law wants a different standard. And of course there were some who dished out licences to anyone for a large enough sum, and the authorities cannot now tell who. So cancelling all bought licences, and the first 199 have already been cancelled Transport and Infrastruture Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo told Parliament last week. We hope many others will also be caught and have to be retested, a mild enough punishment, but a necessary one. Many might complain they were victims, and many were, but the rest of us who use the roads need to know that even a victim is able to drive. So far 54 VID officers have been found guilty of corruption and fired with others under investigation so the culture is being killed.
The Minister is also aiming his guns on the driving schools. Those found to be involved in the racket will be deregistered. While anybody with a licence can teach anyone else to drive, to do so for money as a formal driving school requires registration. So forcing cheats out of business will be a major deterrent.
There was no need for toleration of this state of affairs. Everyone had heard what was going on. Action was possible, even within the corruption culture so prevalent.
A good example is the Passport Office. No one enjoyed applying for a new passport; indeed most people positively hated the experience and complaints were rife about what was seen as duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy. But when you think about it, the near intolerable system was designed to stop corruption. A large team of officers would have to be all dishonest simultaneously for corruption to work, making recruitment difficult, as there will always be some honest people who will squeal, and detection would be easy. The odd incident of corruption, involving a team of officers, was uncovered and went to court. The Central Vehicle Registry with its refusal to implement a “one-stop shop” and making the public go through a chain of offices in what seemed to be opposing corners of a two storey building was again, when you calm down after the experience and can think straight, making corruption very, very difficult.
Now Minister Gumbo is announcing similar changes at the VID: Suggestion boxes, toll-free numbers and supervisors having additional powers added to a general intolerance of corruption will make the sale of driving licences a great deal harder. For one thing it appears anonymous suggestions and calls can be made. One additional suggestion is some sort of audit. Modern technology allows cheap and simple recording devices; they are on $100 smartphones for a start and dedicated devices would be even cheaper. Suitable memory cards are around $5, and that charge can be added to the test fee since the card would need to be stored after the test rather than reused. Supervisors can check a sample of tests, and any complaint can be checked by viewing the record. In fact, CCTV cameras in many Government offices might not be a bad idea.
The Auditor General and her office, and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission can go after the bigger fish. But the small-scale corruption culture that can make life so miserable for so many can be wiped out by sensible and determined action by superiors who themselves are honest.