- Jan 13, 2010
Hii ni story ya kweli kuhusu jinsi ya kupata hizi leseni mpya za kundesha gari. Old wine in a new bottle.
Tanzanian authorities have introduced a new machine-readable driving licence to crack down on the rash of unqualified drivers using fake licences, a combination thought to be partly to blame for the country's many road accidents and reckless driving.
According to the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), the old driving licence was prone to manipulation because it did not specify whether the owner was qualified to drive different types of passenger vehicle. Under the new system, drivers have to undergo training at recognized institutions, irrespective of their prior driving experience, before obtaining a licence for their vehicle. But my experience in getting a new licence showed that the new system has failed to stamp out cheating and that corruption persists -- at a cut-rate price.
Driving licences are grouped in 14 different classes, depending upon the capacity of the vehicle and whether it carries passengers. Although the road Traffic Act No 30 of 1973, as amended under (CAP 168 RE 2002), makes it illegal for anyone to forge or tamper with driving licences or to drive on an expired licence, the new system is still open to corruption that enables unqualified people to obtain the document.
I went through the procedure last year. As a journalist I was keen to see how it worked and whether it sealed off the opportunities for corruption. I suspected there might be a problem when I arrived at the TRA office because I had never attended a driving school. But I wanted to see how rigorously the officials vetted applicants.
The TRA officer in charge first asked me whether I had been through any training. My response was an emphatic "No." The officer then handed me several forms that I filled out so that I could apply for a provisional or LEARNER licence. My fingerprints were recorded using an electronic system resembling the one I saw at the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam when I was applying for a visa five years ago.
Then I was given a payment slip so that I could pay at a nearby bank, and my LEARNER licence was issued the following day. As I was leaving the building, licence in hand, I met a man who introduced himself as Kabaju. He was eager to help me and asked if there had been any problems. I told him I had to go for training at a recognized driving school and that the full driving licence would be issued upon successful completion of my course.
Kabaju produced what appeared to be a Class C1 driving licence that he said he had secured without undergoing any training. That shocked me. It is very demoralizing for someone who is keen to stick to the law to find other people breaking it. Kabaju insisted that the training procedure was so cumbersome, it would likely complicate matters and wasn't my best bet. I wanted to follow the due procedures, but then another thought came: Maybe I should try his way, just to observe the dirty tricks.
Kabaju introduced me to a police officer known by his nickname Bonge, possibly because of his huge physique. Without mincing his words, he told me in Swahili, "Lete mzigo," which means: Pay me my dues. Kabaju had told me earlier that this man would need Tanzania shillings 20,000 ($12) to declare that I had passed my driving test. Bonge indicated that I got excellent marks even though I had had none of the required training, nor had I been tested for competence. What he demanded was illegal, but I decided to pay him because I wanted to write the story exposing the corruption.
After pocketing his Tsh.20,000, Bonge filled in several forms, putting details in a huge ledger and adding signatures. He told me to go next door so that a senior official could approve my case. I realized that though their actions were illegal, there was a great deal of cooperation among the police officers. It is possible that they share out the bribes equally.
A genuine new driving licence costs about Tsh.50,000 ($30) which include Tsh.10,000 ($6) already paid for the LEARNER licence. But for only Tsh.20,000 ($12), one can quickly secure a licence under false pretences.
I went next door and met a sharp-eyed woman who asked me a number of questions about driving. It was quite clear that I was not qualified. She asked me if I had brought the vehicle with me for testing. I said, "No." She told me to come the next day, and as I was making my way out she pulled my shirt and whispered to me in Kiswahili, "Sijanywa chai' – I have not had my breakfast yet.
I was not prepared to give any more bribes. I knew she would get her cut of the bribe money, and I told her that I would not give a cent. She simply told me to come the next day.
The following day, my document was ready and waiting. I sent it along with the bank receipt to the TRA office. This is how many Tanzanians can obtain their new official driving licence without going through the correct procedures.
So what has changed? Surely this new system is like old wine in a new bottle?
Kizito Makoye is a Tanzanian journalist based in Dar es Salaam