By Prisca Wanyenya
Uganda Police is seeking amendments to the traffic laws to scrape off the 28 days within which, traffic offenders are required to pay fines and have fines paid instantly on grounds that the scheme has been abused, and left Police grappling with Shs22Bn arrears in unpaid fines.
The proposal was revealed by Rogers Kauma Nsereko, Commander Metropolitan Kampala Traffic during a training of journalists on Road Safety Reporting conducted by African Centre of Media Excellence (ACME) in Kampala recently.
Kauma proposed to have the Express Payment Scheme (EPS) made more stringent by forcing culprits to park their motor vehicles, clear their fines before proceeding with their journeys.
“It ceases to be an express penalty because what we wanted is that when someone is issued the ticket, they pay immediately. I don’t know if they still consider what our recommendation is, but we have recommended the 28days to be scrapped,” said Kauma.
He added, “If they (motorists) don’t pay in time, we have the burden of looking for them and it is a hustle. And if you find them, you have to remove the number plate and take it to Natete. It is tedious and boring.”
The Express Penalty Scheme (EPS) was introduced in 2004 under Section 165 of the Traffic and Road Safety Act 1998, to help Police manage minor offenses and offenders, improve the public perception of Traffic Police on allegations of graft, and decongest police stations and courts of law with minor traffic offenders.
Kauma cited taxi drivers as the biggest perpetrators, saying some taxis have outstanding EPS arrears to a tune of Shs3-Shs6M.
In the 2020 Annual Crime Report, Uganda Police reported 12,249 crashes in 2020 of which, 3,269 crashes were fatal, 5,803 were serious and 3,177 were minor.
In comparison to the EAC region, Rwanda Police recorded 4,661 cases with 223 fatalities in 2019 compared to 465 in 2018 and Kenya Police recorded 8,919 crashes in 2020 and of these, 3,975 were fatal.
However, Faridah Nampiima, Traffic Police Spokesperson when asked to explain rationale behind Kauma’s proposal, disagreed with assertions made by Kauma saying it isn’t about the 28 days within which one has to pay fines, but rather the murky communication between the person who issued the ticket and the person driving the car.
“It is the communication that has to be put out clearly. When you tell me you are finding it hard to chase people, where are you finding them to chase after them? Do they know you are demanding them?” she asked.
In the December 2020 Auditor General Report, auditors raised concern on the underperformance of collection of EPS fines, highlighting that Police billed tickets to a tune of Shs18.948Bn in 2019/20, but only Shs16.459Bn was collected, and tickets worth Shs2.488Bn remain unpaid.
Further, auditors said EPS arrears had grown since 2015-2020, with tickets issued so far worth Shs92.735Bn, yet only Shs69.813Bn has been collected, while Shs22.922Bn remains unpaid.
Nampiima wondered why Police was being targeted yet it isn’t the only entity with uncollected arrears noting, “It isn’t only traffic fines they aren’t paying, they aren’t paying all the revenues, so why are you concentrating on EPS yet there are fines they aren’t paying elsewhere?”
She added that Traffic Police needs to be applauded for the revenue generated through EPS, given the operating environment they collect fines that is characterized by absence of enabling regulations on how to implement payment of fines and absence of national car registry to trace drivers.
“If I have Shs22Bn in arrears and somebody else has Shs500Bn in arrears, I am better off. The mere fact that the car isn’t in your name and the mode in which we are collecting that money doesn’t have a law defending it, a lot has to be done about it. There isn’t a law protecting us,” she said.
What People Say
Jackie Okao, a private motorist, accused Police of abdicating their role to educate road users on traffic laws, in preference for measures that would inconvenience motorists.
“I think 28days would be fair enough because at the end of the day, what police tend to put emphasis on is the penalty and less education. A number of people will get inconvenienced. They are claiming that taxis have accumulated penalties to a tune of Shs6M, that is because they are focusing on the cars, how about we move away from the car to the driver,” said Okao.
Ibrahim Kayondo, Secretary United Bus Drivers Association warned Police advocating for such stringent measures because it would mean all cars would be impounded over failure to clear fines instantly, saying, “I think the people that proposed to have this money paid within 28 days were right. However I am not in support of the proposal to scrap off the 28days,” said Kayondo.
Enock Gibuyama, taxi driver plying the Kampala-Mbale route described the proposal as stringent, giving a scenario where he received five EPS forms in 2021 and has cleared four of them and promises to have the 5th cleared by end of this year.
“This one isn’t good, if you are given a ticket, you need to be given time to look for the money before you pay, but if you pack the vehicle, how will the fines be paid?” asked Gibuyama.
Sam Bambanza, Executive Director-Hope for Victims of Traffic Accidents(HOVITA) a civil society group dealing in road safety, castigated Police for turning the EPS into business at the expense of saving lives of road users, and warned that traffic officers would exploit ignorant road users.
“They are putting the offense on the vehicle, not on the driving permit. You are the one driving the vehicle, the penalty should go on the permit not the vehicle because the vehicle doesn’t have an offense. That will promote professionalism, if the vehicle is in bad condition, then the driver will know that it will have an impact on his permit,” remarked Bambanza.
Alex Ruhunda (Fort Portal Central Division) who doubles as Chairperson Parliamentary Forum on Road Safety and Infrastructure also rejected the proposal saying the measure would create conflicts and unnecessary suffering of citizens.
“We need to improve on the technology. Sometimes the issue of instant cash to these traffic officers increases corruption, the temptation for someone to cheat and get their way will be much higher. Why do they allow people to accumulate all these fines? The moment you haven’t paid these fines, you shouldn’t be on the road. Actually, they are encouraging laissez-faire,” said Ruhunda.
Initially, Police used to impound driving permits until motorists presented proof of payment of fines, but this was abandoned after a value for money Audit Report on the Implementation of the EPS in March 2013, by the Auditor General deemed the practice a failure, after realizing owners chose to abandon reclaiming their driving permits.
Section 17 of Traffic Act in Kenya requires police notify motorists of their offenses by issuing a notification in prescribed form directly or place it in a prominent place on a vehicle concerned in case of minor traffic offenses and if the offender denies the charges, they are required to show up in court in 48hours.
While in the US, traffic fines can be deducted from one’s Social Security number (SSN) while in Sweden, they can be deducted straight from your bank account.