Central governmental collusion in this illicit process is readily apparent. Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has proposed raising the penalty for minor traffic violations by US$10 to US$30, and projected amounts accruing from roadblocks (US$60 million) have been officially incorporated in the budget of the home affairs ministry.
Police stations are given monthly roadblock revenue targets, and individual police officers are ordered to raise set amounts daily from fines.
The short-term advantage of this revenue stream is more than offset by the lack of respect for the police that has developed as a result.
Once the police in Zimbabwe were unquestioningly obeyed by the public. Now heated arguments take place at roadblocks and motorists often resort to driving away rather than parting with their licences. To prevent this, the police arm themselves with homemade spiked metal plates that shred the wheels motorists intending to flee.
Although the practice is not sanctioned by law, it has been rigorously defended by Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo and the police’s Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri. Recently, however, the government announced that the spikes would be used only as a last resort, though the effect of the announcement is yet to be seen.
Antipathy towards the police has led to a strike by commuter taxi drivers and sporadic outbreaks of violence. Riots erupted in Harare when the spikes resulted in injury to the public and commuter passengers, and members of the public have ganged up and attacked traffic officers.
With frequent roadblocks on intercity highways as well as all other towns, there has been a steep drop in tourist numbers visiting the country by car. The lost revenue from tourism may well exceed that gained from the fines.
In exit surveys, visitors have cited police roadblocks as a reason for not returning to the country or recommending Zimbabwe as a holiday destination.
Although Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi has joined the chorus of complaints about the situation, the response of Chihuri and Chombo is that the police won’t be deterred from enforcing the law. After all, Chombo cynically asked, if the motorists are innocent, why do they pay admission of guilt fines?
The roadblocks bring to the surface symptoms of a general malaise in governance that extends throughout the Mugabe administration. They make it readily apparent that in Zimbabwe there is rule by law, rather than the rule of law – laws that advantage the state and ruling party are enforced, while those that protect the citizenry are discarded.
Judicial restraint on executive excess is entirely absent, and short-term financial advantage is privileged over long-term development. Corruption is encouraged as a means of alleviating the government’s inability to finance the institutions of state and as a means of distributing largesse.
The resultant policy discord among ministers lies in disputes over outcome rather than method; and the policy persists in the face of public outrage across party divides – Zimbabwean governance in a nutshell.
By Derek Matyszak. This article was first published by ISS Today