- Parallel Road Traffic offices in Blantyre
- Use stolen official security paper to produce traffic documents
The rot at the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) has reached new levels, with its staff nourishing black market issuance of road traffic documents by illegally selling official security paper at K4 000 to users.
Papers such as certificate of fitness (CoF), motor vehicle registration certificates popularly known as ‘Blue Book’ and cross-border permits are now being produced well outside the DRTSS system, a Weekend Nation undercover investigation shows.
We have found that some DRTSS employees steal official security papers for sell to non-descript cafes in places such as Blantyre central business district (CBD), Mbayani and Ndirande in Blantyre.
These cafes then print traffic documents that a senior official at the agency said were indistinguishable from those issued officially. With K4 000 one can buy security paper for CoF; K13 000 can get a complete CoF; K24 000 can fetch a cross-border permit and K20 000 secures a Blue Book in a room rented in a building within Blantyre’s CBD and cafes in Ndirande and Mbayani.
Weekend Nation-which sent an undercover team after clearing with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB)-established that when some of the DRTSS employees steal the security papers, they give them to ‘middlemen’ known as dobadobas, who hang around DRTSS premises.
The ‘dobadobas’ then look for the market from people that have come to use the DRTSS services. The ‘client’ has a choice either to buy the security paper and be directed to a café in Blantyre for the printing or leave vehicle details and a few hours later a complete document would be ready.
This is a departure from the well known racket in which DRTSS users would bribe the agency’s officials to cut corners and get the documents right from the directorate’s premises and systems as Weekend Nation exposed in 2009.
In that sting eight years ago, Weekend Nation, acting on tips,—went undercover and exposed how a gardener who had never had any driving lessons obtained a valid Sadc driving licence after paying a K20 000 bribe.
Using the same methodology, the paper also obtained a CoF for a vehicle without engine, seats, tyres and other parts, which had been off the road for more than 10 years, half- buried in the sand.
The fraudulent issuance of those two documents-a driving licence to someone who had no clue about driving a vehicle and a CoF to a car that was in no condition to ever be on the roadcould be a cause or aggravating factor in the carnage on the roads of Malawi.
Traffic authorities were quoted in the first part of this story published in The Nation of yesterday as having said that most road accidents in Malawi are the drivers’ faults.
That could be true but when institutionalised corruption at DRTSS allows untrained drivers and unroadworthy vehicles to be on the road, doesn’t that contribute to the faults that officials are attributing to the reckless driver? ,
While the ACB launched investigations that led to the arrest of some officials at the then Road Traffic Directorate (RTD) following the 2009 Weekend Nation expose, the malpractice never stopped.
But this time it is different as perpetrators have become more sophisticated in a quest to beat a new system at the road traffic agency.
How we found out
In trying to establish how the whole new traffic documents racket works, Weekend Nation approached a dobadoba who asked for K4 000 for the procurement of a security paper.
The dobadoba later directed the team to some cafe rented room in Blantyre (CBD) where the actual printing was done.
But the dobadoba also said if we wanted, he could take us to cafes in Mbayani and Ndirande where the documents could also be printed.
At the printers, we presented details of a Nation Publications Limited (NPL) vehicle, which had a valid CoF.
However, we did not disclose that NPL owned the vehicle to avoid scaring away the printers and the ‘dobadoba.
Two hours after submitting the security paper and paying K9 000 for the printing, the second CoF for motor vehicle registration MN 1334 was procured.
The first or original CoF document that was duly processed from DRTSS was printed on security paper number MW2016 0844714B and had owner’s details and traffic registration number 20151004040771.
The CoF would run from April 2017 to March 2018 under the owners name Nation Publications Limited while the second document was printed on security paper number MW2016 0903777B with traffic registration number 20170404016426.
It covers the period February 2017 to January 2018 under the name Doctor Oinye.
We will surrender the questionable document to government. The two documents share the same postal address as that of Nation Publications Limited.
At the Blantyre CBD café, a Weekend Nation undercover team joined the queue of about 13 people trying to procure various documents in a nameless room.
One person from Chapananga in Chikwawa, who came to process a CoF, blamed his illega ways on the new DRTSS system that requires the presence of vehicle owners to access services at the directorate.
“I am using my brother’s vehicle, he is in the UK [United Kingdom]. To follow the right procedure, there is need for my brother to come for fingerprints which is not possible,” he said.
During the in-and-out visits to the ‘parallel’ office in the CBD in Blantyre, Weekend Nation witnessed the processing of over 60 documents.
We later presented the fake CoF to a senior DRTSS official, at Ginnery Corner in Blantyre, who admitted it could not be easily distinguished from genuine one.
The official, who asked not to be named because he was not the directorate’s official spokesperson said both CoF documents looked genuine as they were printed on original DRTSS security papers.
“Where did you get that document from?” he wondered, before confessing that the paper looked genuine and would have ‘probably’ come from his office, saying: “There could be some bad apples in the system.”
The official said the directorate has gadgets to detect whether a vehicle was certified roadworthy or not, but they do not have enough.
The whole of Southern Region, he said, has only two of those gadgets. The officer further blamed their current system which, he said, does not produce a summary of how the security papers have been used.
“We receive the security papers and are given to the accountant who is a custodian. There is no system that summarises the security papers released and the CoFs issued “We cannot rule out bad apples that are collaborating with outsiders to sell these documents. We do not really know how you managed to get that document,” he said.
The officer said DRTSS had problems with fake vehicle documents in the past years but thought the problems were sorted out with the introduction of the new system.
He was baffled with the simplistic ways that the ‘bad apples’ have taken to beat the system. The officer then said DRTSS was overburdened with the issuance of CoFs, which was not particularly their role.
“In the first place, in our Act, we are not supposed to issue CoFs. You cannot be a player and a referee at the same time. Our role is to regulate vehicle inspectors, how can we regulate when we are also the ones inspecting the vehicles?” he said.
The officer said the ‘bad apples’ within the system were likely collaborating with outsiders to steal and use DRTSS documents and information, a malpractice which would be putting vehicles and people at risk.
He, however, said government has managed to devolve the system and has subcontracted Toyota Malawi and Dalitso Garage to be issuing CoFs.
DRTSS spokesperson Angelina Makwecha, in an e-mail response on Tuesday, confirmed that the department was aware of the missing of some security papers and that it was dismayed.
“DRTSS is aware that some security documents are missing, and we are dismayed with this; hence, we have engaged relevant authorities to help us investigate this issue and if any officers of DRTSS are found to be involved, the department will take the necessary steps to deal with them,” she said.
Makwecha said the department could not conclude that the incident that happened at DRTSS office in Blantyre was an isolated case or it was a syndicate.
“As a department we have engaged relevant authorities to help us to investigate. It is also appropriate that as ordinary Malawians we should report anyone found in possession of such documents so that appropriate action can be taken and a lesson can be learnt by others,” she said.
The publicist added that DRTSS has put in place “very strict” measures to handle and issue security documents, adding that Maltis their new information system-was “a very secured system” and there is no chance that someone can crash into it.
“However, you may wish to know that information can be taken from any document held by the user-whether expired or valid. Our clients’ information is safe and secure, this is just an act of forgery and theft,” she said.
The spokesperson explained that the department was able to track down and account for all security documents on daily basis, a sharp contrast to what the senior DRTSS official based in Blantyre had said earlier that it is difficult to trace and account for security paper stock.
Said Makwecha: “All security documents are serialised. With the serial number DRTSS is able to tell that such was issued either for vehicle registration certificate, CoF, etc. This can be traced using the stock control function on Maltis.
“ It should be noted that DRTSS does not condone corruption. DRTSS is in the process of developing a corruption prevention policy, which will be launched soon.
Head of Traffic Police in the Malawi Police Service MacPherson Matowe told Weekend Nation that it was practically difficult to recognise a ‘fake’ CoF without actually removing it from the windscreen.
He said in most cases, when a traffic police officer was suspicious of a vehicles’ CoF, he or she would call DRTSS to check if the documents were genuine.
“Several times we have been able to find fake CoFs after inquiring with the DRTSS and we always confiscate the documents,” said Matowe.
Studies have shown that DRTSS and Traffic Police are among government agencies that are perceived to be the most corrupt in Malawi.