ACB involvement at RTSS stirs controversy
The directive by the government to use the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) to vet applications for change of ownership of vehicles has attracted resentment from some applicants who feel the procedure is causing unnecessary delays.
Since last year, the government ordered the Road Traffic and Safety Services (RTSS) to forward all change-of-ownership applications to ACB for the graft-busting body to trace the background of owners as one way of stopping people from transferring ownership of illegally acquired vehicles.
ACB’s move comes against the backdrop of suspected cases of people trying to change ownership of vehicles that were bought using money stolen from government in the infamous Cashgate scandal.
However, a cross section of car owners who have been seeking the service from RTSS, are questioning the whole setup as it is said to be causing problems to people who have nothing to do with Cashgate.
A Blantyre-based man who asked for anonymity said he had applied for the service over four months ago and is yet to get his application finalised.
“I have been waiting for the processing of my vehicle papers for months now. Officials at the RTSS have been telling me my application is still with the ACB. I wonder what is the problem because I am neither corrupt nor have I ever been involved in Cashgate. This is so frustrating especially for many of us who are just falling prey to this change,” he lamented.
The sentiments were echoed by a Mchinji-based tobacco farmer who bought a vehicle in March 2015 but her change-of-ownership papers are still not done.
“I filed my vehicle papers at the Lilongwe RTSS offices in March and I am still waiting to get my papers. The fact that the papers are yet to be processed gives me fear that if anything can happen to the car that I am using I will have nowhere to report,” she said.
But the ACB spokesperson, Egritta Ndala, has defended the move saying the procedure is backed by Section 11 of the Corrupt Practices Act, and stated that the process causes no delays.
“The ACB takes less than five working days to process clearance for change of ownership of vehicles and other property like real estates. The bureau has set seven working days as the maximum time it can take before the report is issued. However, in practice, the processing has never reached the maximum period. The delays could have been occasioned by other stakeholders involved in the process,” she said.
She absolved the bureau saying the process is done to detect and prevent loss of property related to Cashgate by way of conversion or concealment by suspects.
“The procedure is necessary as it helps ensure that the property which may have been acquired with Cashgate money is preserved,” added Ndala.
Public Relations Office for RTSS, Chisomo Chibwana, denied any knowledge of delays in the process of changing vehicle ownership but surprisingly shifted the blame to other factors.
“As far as I am concerned I don’t have any reports of such delays taking months before vehicle change of ownership papers are granted. But in the event that this happens, those people should approach our regional managers for assistance.
“But what I can say is that whatever delays are being experienced now are not part of RTSS system problems. Otherwise blue books are being given to all those who applied after scrutiny by ACB according to the directive we received,” she said.
However, lawyer Jai Banda, who has been handling cases bordering on fraud and money laundering, said the procedure was problematic.
“I wonder why the ACB is involved in the process say of vehicle ownership change. If anything, it was supposed to be the jurisdiction of Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) if it was a question of tracing the source of money. But again that should have been targeted not wholesale. However, involving ACB to scrutinise people who do not even have a case to answer, I think, that is very problematic,” he said.
Banda doubted the efficiency of the process saying it has many loopholes and should be reworked on.
ACB officials say the new procedures have been implemented to block some people involved in Cashgate from converting or concealing property through change of vehicle ownership.
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