Mea Culpa

8 02 2007

It finally happened; today I bribed a police officer. In my defense I would like to point out that he suggested the bribe, I did not offer it. Yes, it rankles a bit but this is Zimbabwe and one has to be pragmatic.

In a civilized country I would have got away with it I think. To stop at the intersection on the change of the light to orange would definitely have left rubber on the road. No, I was not speeding so I was a bit perplexed when he indicated that I was to pull over. No, they were not giving out fines anymore as it was not working. They were confiscating driving licences instead and you had to go to court to get it back. That’s if the magistrate did not decide to confiscate it (for going across an orange light?). I was then informed that this was all to try and reduce the accident rate in Zimbabwe because people were getting killed etc. etc. etc. It did occur to me to point out that a lot more could be done to curb accidents by clamping down on drink driving, unroadworthy vehicles and minibuses that pullover wherever they like, frequently right ON corners! I could see it was wasted, this was fait accompli. I listened to the patter, it was well rehearsed. I wondered at what stage I should suggest a deal and then thought I did not want to get done for bribing a police officer too. Then it came; we are caring about people about you, we do understand. Right. Just a bit more patter and then – we can do something if you are in agreement. We both knew that he had me exactly where he wanted me. Could I really afford going to court to get my licence back? Would it really get confiscated? Of course I was in agreement. Fine, then I should fold ZW$100000 tightly behind my driver’s licence which he handed back to me and then give it back. I duly complied and watched how he masterfully handled the licence so that an approaching pedestrian could not see it. No amateur this guy! But what of the form that he’d been filling in? Oh that would be taken care of, and it was cancelled in front of my eyes. I did notice that carbon paper was conspicuously absent and I could not see if there were serial numbers on the page. It was not the usual “Admission of Guilt” form that accompanies the speed fining system. Was the whole thing a scam? I don’t know. He did OK out of it though. $100000 (about US$20) is probably half of what he earns in a month.

In a way I can understand why they do it. The police are poorly paid and with inflation topping 4000% they must find it very difficult to not jump at money making “opportunities”. And this month the inflation is going to be a record beater. I mentioned in a previous post that the head of the Reserve Bank had given his year end plan and report. Included was a “Social Charter” which includes, amongst other things, a three month price and wage freeze from March to May. The obvious has happened; prices have gone up in some cases 1000% to last through the price freeze e.g. yesterday a local fertilizer company raised the price of a premixed soluble fertilizer from $1800/2kg to $22000/2kg (divide by around 5000 to get the US dollar price, today only).

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