The Vehicle Inspection Department has a fairly vital role when it comes to the vehicles and drivers on Zimbabwean roads, hardly the safest on the planet, and so when the chair of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission raises the problem of corruption within that department we clearly need to work out how it can be eliminated.
The VID has a triple function. It needs to check that vehicles on the roads are safe, which is more than just seeing if they are functioning, but that if something goes wrong they will fail safe, that is they will not smash into something or someone.
Particular emphasis needs to be placed on things like brakes, tyres and other parts of the vehicle that must be in excellent shape.
Secondly, it needs to ensure vehicles are law-abiding. For example, an overloaded truck can damage roads quite severely, and such trucks are one of the major reasons why some roads need repairs or even reconstruction far sooner than expected.
And finally, it is the authority that does the testing of drivers, both the Highway Code tests for those wanting to learn how to drive and then the tests for the actual licence, once a driver has shown they have the dual competency of knowing the rules of the road and knowing how to control and drive a vehicle within those rules.
The opportunities for corruption are there. For a start a lot of the operations involve just one or two members of VID staff and just one person from the general public.
Deals can be done without the inconvenience of witnesses and since so many of the checks and tests would have to be redone in their entirety to find out if they were done badly the first time, the opportunities for auditing are not that many.
When speaking about the problem on International Anti-Corruption Day last week, ZACC chair Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo spread the blame.
She said the reports that come into her commission suggest that some VID testers demand up to US$250 for the required report that leads to a driver’s licence and that transport companies routinely pay out US$10 every time one of their trucks meets an inspector, sums that can total US$1 000 from a single company every month.
She was perfectly aware that it takes two to tango, the person taking a bribe and the person paying the bribe, and was quite willing to accept that in a lot of cases it was the person wanting a licence, or wanting to get their truck through an inspection, who initiated the delicate negotiations that saw the handover of the cash.
We always need to remember that offering a bribe, or paying a bribe, is as criminal and as morally indefensible as seeking a bribe or accepting a bribe.
But the problem remains that VID staff are there to stop people dying on the roads. The tests they do, on vehicles and on people, are designed to do just that.
If a defective vehicle is allowed on the roads, or if a bad driver or a driver without the required basic skills and knowledge of rules of the road is allowed behind the wheel then people can die.
Admittedly, in the almost institutionalised corruption that has certainly existed at VID in the past, there were the “honest” staff who would only charge for a licence when they were sure the learner driver was actually competent, or who would only accept a bribe for passing a truck if the truck was in fact legal.
This group was charging extra to do their duty, but once you start down the slippery slope of corruption it becomes ever more difficult to maintain even vestiges of honour.
First just a little mistake on a test is overlooked, then a bigger one and sooner or later someone who should not be allowed on the road without a keeper is let loose.
What upset Justice Matanda-Moyo the most was the acceptance of a culture of corruption within some groups, that everyone in that group was on the take and that those dealing with that group budgeted for corrupt payments, such as those transport companies setting aside US$1 000 a month in their books for these payments.
She saw the problems from both sides. Civil servants, despite the growing standard of living from the Government, are still not paid that highly, and in many cases are paid a lot less than the people they have to test and monitor.
But she also believes that we need to change this culture, and must change this culture. We agree.
The concept is that of “professionalism”, that we do our duty properly and well regardless of the external pressures and regardless of the temptations and pressures.
This, in fact, is the most effective way of keeping people doing their duty, without drifting into side paths that create wealth by allowing standards to be eroded or abandoned.
In any organisation everyone knows who the real professionals are, and they all know each other as well. And it is this group who have to take a lead in enforcing the standards.
ZACC and other enforcers can make it easier for people to be honest by increasing the pressure on the dishonest and rooting out the corrupt.
But until cultures change so that people would rather have respect, even admiration, over criminal proceeds, it will be a continuous process to keep cutting out corruption.