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Road traffic still rotten

A three-week Malawi News investigation has revealed that corruption at The Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) is still rife after this reporter, who has never driven a vehicle in his whole life, got a valid driving licence after ‘corrupting’ the system with K150,000.

The reporter was also able to ‘buy’ a Yellow Fever certificate and Health fitness certificate at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre at K3, 000 and K8, 000 respectively without undergoing any tests.

Corruption at Road Traffic

The Road Traffic Directorate, in justifying the Malawi Traffic Information System update (MalTis) earlier this year, claimed it would “completely curb out corruption at the Directorate.

The Directorate even said the delays people experience at the Directorate are due to the failure of corrupt middlemen to penetrate the system.

But our visit there in the past two weeks revealed that 12 out of at least 15 people that we contacted ‘bought’ their licences; some reportedly using agents at driving schools, while others using officers at the Directorate .

O n e name of the middleman that featured more than once in the inquiries and who we made contact with is Collins William Likomba.

We met Likomba on Tuesday, December 22 in Lilongwe at the Directorate headquarters where he demanded MWK150, 000 and promised the licence would come out the same day.

We paid him the initial K50, 000 around 2pm on Tuesday using his FDH Bank account number 4000000171788.

He advised us to be in Lilongwe at 7am the next morning where we met him with a form for the licence.

Likomba took us to Lingadzi Police to falsely get a report that our licence was lost, a process that enabled the application of the new one.

We got the report through an officer identified as a Misomali. He was picked from his road traffic duties.

The policeman neither said hello nor interviewed us but merely produced a police report claiming that ‘Bright Selemani Mhango’ lost his licence and is asking for a renewal.

It took him seven minutes to produce the fake report and seemed acquainted with Likomba.

At the City Centre Road Traffic offices, Likomba commanded respect, jumped queues and everyone served him without question.

He demanded the rest of the payment before he could continue and explained how each step he takes sees him greasing someone.

For example after we gave him K85, 000, he went in an office and came back with K60, 000.

Likomba seemed fearless; he even demanded the money right there in the document collection hall in plain view of everyone.

He did all the donkey work and all we had to do was follow him from booth to booth.

The highlight of which was when Likomba, somehow fearing that the reporter would fail the eye test, ordered it to halt midway, saying the reporter had done it already.

After going through the whole process, the licence was issued.

Legally, a driving licence applicant is supposed to register to get the traffic register card, wait 30 days in which it is assumed he is taking driving lessons, and then assessed for the licence including the all too important eye test.

As we were preparing to leave, Likomba was being nudged by another client, and then pulled a bundle of traffic register cards from his pocket to start processing another licence.

A woman Malawi News interviewed, as she was busy examining her new licence unwittingly, confessed that she also just started the whole process that very morning.

A simple survey Malawi News conducted on drivers it knows revealed that most of them had got their licences through the backdoor and paid kickbacks ranging from K110,000 to K150,000 after the implementation of the new ‘tough’ system.

According to the latest WHO data published in May 2014, Road Traffic accidents deaths in Malawi reached 2,637 or 1.89 percent of total deaths.

Traffic accidents are the 13th top killer, with an average Malawian more likely to die in a traffic accident than via lung disease or hypertension.

The Directorate, through an email response from its PRO, Chisomo Chibwana said it is dismayed by our findings.

“Every system is as good as the people operating the system and if indeed this alleged act happened it is quite unfortunate that some individuals would want to operate contrary to the expectations of the Directorate and the general public.

“As the Directorate we are open to making sure that all proper investigations are done to establish exactly how this incident may have occurred and if any officers of the Directorate are found to be involved, the Directorate will take the necessary steps to deal with them,” said Chibwana.

But Minister of Transport and Public works, Francis Kasaila, when presented with the findings dismissed them as anecdotal and demanded the names of the perpetrators.

“I will not believe until I have evidence. How do I know this really happened? Bring me the evidence and I will act. …what I know is that reporters from Times Group have been writing bad things about the [Malawi Traffic Information System- MalTis] system, full stop,” said Kasaila on Thursday in a phone interview.

Operation Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a serious viral disease and it occurs in tropical Africa and Latin America.

900 million persons live in areas at risk of this disease which has no cure, and up to 50 percent of severely affected persons without treatment will die.

It is only contained through a vaccine.

Estimates indicate Yellow Fever kills 30,000 people every year, with about 200,000 reported cases of illness. There have been deaths in unvaccinated tourists visiting risk areas.

To control the spread of the disease some countries demand that before one travels to their territory, one should have a vaccination certificate in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.

But our visit to Queens showed that it is simple to get the certification as long as one has K3,000.

We visited Queens on December 15, 2015 and the person manning the reception at the Out Patient Department told us the hospital does not have the Yellow Fever vaccine but said he would help the reporter get a certificate at K3,000.

The receptionist who was different from the one that was earlier on duty was duly paid the money and in turn he got the reporter’s passport and details and came back after just seven minutes with a certificate saying the reporter had been given a Yellow Fever vaccine signed by a clinical officer.

Despite the fact that the reporter’s passport showed clearly that he had travelled to Ethiopia recently, the country being one of the countries where Yellow Fever is endemic.

The vaccine must be issued at least two weeks before one travels and the certificate was conveniently dated 26 January 2016 upon request.

The receptionist said the only hospital that has the vaccine is Mwaiwathu Private Hospital and that it is too expensive to dare.

Mwaiwathu Private Hospital told Malawi News that the vaccine is out stock, that a dosage is just short of K100, 000 and referred us to another private clinic.

The clinic,(identity deliberately withheld) when contacted as a general inquiry over the phone said they do not have the vaccine but can produce a falsified certificate at K2000.

With the fake certificates, Malawi is defaulting on an important international obligation and putting millions at risk.

Medical Fitness

Malawi News also established that at the right price, anyone can be certified medically fit in all areas as the journalist was able to get a health certificate of fitness without a single drop of blood being drawn required for laboratory tests.

The reporter was given a serology report that determined the reporter HIV negative, an X-ray report that decreed his lungs, lymph nodes and cardiac shadow in good shape, his sight was also listed as normal. All this happened inside 15 minutes and for just K8000.

With the fitness form, the reporter can travel to any country to study, work or just travel. All the stamps are legitimate.

Malawi News established that this is a cartel as all one needs to do is go to the reception to say they need a quick medical and the receptionist leaps into action, abandoning his duties to see you to a clinical officer who takes over the process.

This clinical officer takes the report from office to office and comes back with a fully filled form; it is a cartel because the other people in the labs and radiology department supply their signatures and official stamps without asking questions.

Unlike Kasaila’s reaction to the rot at Road Traffic Directorate, his counterpart Minister of Health, Peter Kumpalume thanked Malawi News for conducting the investigation.

Kumpalume conceded that mistakes made by health personnel can cost lives and are against ethics.

“We need to know the names of those people that issued the bogus documents so that we know them and remove them so as to show others that we are serious about this otherwise if the offenders are not known, nobody takes action and they will keep doing it,” he said in a phone interview .

But Activist Billy Mayaya was not impressed with the two ministers’ reaction, saying there is need to deal with the ‘spectre of cashgate’ and put in place measures to link solutions with long term public sector reforms

“Naming and shaming of corrupt officials is an important first step but it has to go beyond that and lead to punitive consequences,” said Mayaya in an email response.

“It goes deeper than just having transparency initiatives and reporting offenders, if we do not change hearts and mindsets, as the President says, we should love our country,” he said.

Adding on his boss’ response spokesperson of the health ministry, Adrian Chikumbe, said it is deplorable that there is corruption in the public hospitals but said ‘bad apples’ are found everywhere.

“Getting a fake certificate might be bad for the person getting it as they might go to an area where there is a disease and get infected because they are not actually vaccinated, on the other hand they can also be carriers of a certain disease and spread it to other populations,” said Chikumbe.

He said Malawi risks losing credibility internationally.

Chancellor College social commentator and researcher Boniface Dulani told The Daily Times recently that the multibillion kwacha Cashgate scandal may have worsened the negative perception by Malawians.

“These perceptions represent the actual situation on the ground. Government and politicians may want to paint a different picture but this is what people are experiencing,” Dulani said.

He added: “Both Afrobarometer here in Malawi and the Anti- Corruption Bureau [ACB] have previously come out with figures on corruption perception in the country which concurs with this report.”

When the Daily Times ran a report saying Malawi is still very corrupt citing the ‘People and Corruption’ Survey by Transparency International, government played down the report as only a “quantification of perception,” which might not reflect the realities.

The December 1 report says 69 percent of Malawians believe that in the past 12 months government has failed to fight the worsening corruption.

Director of Information in the Ministry of Information Bright Molande in dismissing the report said: “As government we would be interested if the research informed us about the actual situation on the ground. The respondents were expressing their opinion and not necessarily the realities on the ground,”

The Anti-Corruption Bureau gave a lukewarm response to the issue of corruption in public institutions, delaying the response to our questionnaire because they were busy commemorating the International Anti-Corruption Day.

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