November 11, 2020

Government service for Sale in Oromia

FeaturedEthiopiaJimma

The principle of public service dictates that government authorities provide services based on the…

Avatar: Workineh Diribsa
By Workineh Diribsa

I am Workineh, lecturer and researcher at Jimma University; journalist/correspondent for Addis Zeybe media.

The principle of public service dictates that government authorities provide services based on the tax collected from the society. Therefore, in line with the principle of non-discrimination, public servants have moral and legal obligations to effectively serve all citizens without bias and in a equitable manner. However, it has been common for a while to see traffic police officers take bribes from drivers, whenever such drivers break traffic laws on the road.

Terefe has been living in Jimma town for more than a decade. He goes to Addis Ababa at least three times a year. He says that it is very common to see traffic police receiving a bribe from drivers. In fact, he says “they take from fifty to hundred birr ”.  He further states that it is really a controversial scenario to see traffic police letting drivers engage in different illegal activities and punishing those with no faults. “This is just due to the bribe money they learned to receive from drivers” he adds.  “I have personally witnessed when a teller bended fifty Ethiopian birr and put it in the hand of traffic police” Terefe adds. Other drivers, tellers and passengers Addis Zeybe spoke to also share Terefe’s claim about the law enforcement agents.

Underlying factors that contribute to the dishonesty observed in transportation service

According to most people who gave their views to Addis Zeybe, low income of traffic police, mental greediness and the overall corruption they observe in every government structure across Oromia regional states has contributed to this socio economic chaos witnessed in transportation services that created every day challenges to many innocent citizens. Getachew Tilahun (assistant professor in Jimma University) conducted his PhD dissertation on road traffic safety. For him the problem emerges mainly from the absence of sense of ownership which is resulted from the destruction of virtue of humanity and patriotism, “people don’t say I am working for my country anymore; these values and culture have been destroyed by capitalism that was applied in the wrong way for the last three decades. Thus, these greedy and selfish cultures have ruined the Ethiopian culture and religion.” He states, adding "since there is no inspection and supervision to assure that the traffic police are really respecting peace. Drivers keep on paying unauthorized taxes to every traffic police on the road."

Addis Zeybe also talked to another passenger about this pressing issue. The first passenger who wished to stay anonymous explained that on the road seeing traffic police receive bribes is a common sight “both drivers and traffic police have some code in which they usually communicate. They sometimes ask for exchange of fifty birr so the tellers prepare the money by rolling it into small sizes in order to easily hide it from others. The money that is ready for the purpose is even calculated based on the expected number of places where traffic police are located” adds the passenger.  

A driver who also wanted his name undisclosed asserts that a driver must do everything including bribes asked by traffic police. “It is not something we do in secret, instead we publically give money to them. If you don’t comply, they certainly can put you in trouble with false accusations and even force you to stop work”.  When Addis Zeybe forwarded a question as to why the drivers don’t take this to the law he replied with a sarcastic laugh and said “they all are coordinated from top to bottom in undertaking the business of looting money so that you have no other option than to be their captives. It is the interest of all drivers to be free of such illegal actions yet one way or another you have to make a living”.  However, the Jimma zone transportation authority has denied the notion of coordinated illegal activities from top to bottom and claims the office is doing all it can. On another extreme, drivers intentionally commit illegal activities to make more money so they can afford the extra expenses they have to pay for the traffic police, said a driver to Addis Zeybe.

 What are the effects of illegal transportation service delivery on the passengers?

In Ethiopia countless people move from one place to another for different reasons. Consequently, they don’t have enough time and options to choose favorable means of transportation. Thus passengers are usually like a grass on which two elephants are fighting. Obviously, unlawful corruption observed in the transportation services comes from the pockets of passengers as drivers force passengers to pay double from the normal tariff and over load more than the car’s normal capacity.

According to drivers Addis Zeybe spoke they say giving bribes to traffic police is a must as they tend to believe that though they respect every traffic rules no traffic would let you pass without them paying a bribe. One driver even stated that it can be concluded that nowadays, the high majority of traffic police working on Jimma-Addis Ababa road care more about their personal benefit than keeping rules and orders.

Passengers also face harassment from drivers and tellers if they defend their rights. The time wasted on the road is also another headache for the travelers as cars stop many places to ration the bribes to the traffic police.

Head of Jimma zone transportation authority Mashu Bekele spoke to addis Zeybe on the phone about the problem. In our interview He says “I cannot  fully deny that there is no problem, there are problems, but the deal is made between drivers and traffic police. Therefore, the problem is not solely from traffic police.” Mashu also stated that he doesn’t agree with the view that transportation service is totally corrupted and full of problems. According to him Sometimes, drivers come to complain about traffic  to his office after they make deals with them. 

What is the way out?

The wrong doings in the transportation service that are frustrating passengers and drivers are highly complicated in its very nature. Since there are various stakeholders in the sector fixing the problems easily is impossible. Most of the stakeholders Addis Zeybe spoke with say that beyond technical solutions underlying transformational paradigm shift must seriously be demanded to tackle the problems. “In my opinion, passengers need to develop a culture of exposing such illegal doings and stand firm for their rights. I know it has a risk, sometimes drivers put pressure on passengers to tell traffic police that we are paying less than what we have already paid ” Firomsa, which is one of the passengers says. Similarly, another passenger claims that applying technology like radar and underlying changes of mind set is urgently needed. 

According to Mashu the type of illegal activities and corruption observed in the area are mainly from the nature of the job which involves a variety of stakeholders. Further, the authority explained that, Jimma zone transport authority office has been helping drivers who went to them with different complaints that are relevant to their office. Yet, the underlying solution is realized via sincere efforts of all stakeholders. 

Getachew (PhD) on his part recommends   that,   it   needs   a   long   term   underlying   transformation to change and avert such destructive thinking and practices. He also suggests that inspection and rule of law must be assured in the short run. Passengers should also firmly speak for their rights and expose corrupted relationships observed between traffic police and drivers on the transportation service. A driver who spoke his view about what should be done to tackle the challenge feels building freeway roads that are free of traffic police is way out of the problem.