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Columnists

Conflict of interest fuelling death on roads

A road accident scene.
A road accident scene. It isn’t hard to set speed limits or make a law saying overlapping is illegal. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As our matatus position themselves as luxury travel, riding high on the fuel levy to raise fares comprehensively, one thing we can be sure of is that they won’t be giving us a better ride: because the law just isn’t in place to assure that.

For sure, overlapping is illegal. Shoddy seat belts, roaring music, incompetent drivers: we have all the groundwork of basic laws to prevent these menaces and assure some modicum of safety in road behaviour, and at least some in vehicle maintenance and conduct.

But where we fall down is in the gaps in our rules that make the breaking of the rules easy, endemic, and even blessed.

For in making our laws, something in us pulls us back from creating rules that are ‘appropriate’ to the exact problems and circumstances that we have. For sure, it isn’t hard to set speed limits or make a law saying overlapping is illegal. But we really need to be realistic about where our weakness is in enforcing those laws.

And our road laws are enforced by our transport police - once again, exclusively, on the withdrawal of National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) officers from the roads, and its handover last month of Sh165m of road safety enforcement equipment.

So now our transport police are better equipped with road speed monitors and licence readers, and back to being the only control on those pesky matatu rule-breakers.But I’m going to let you in on a shocking secret.

Maybe we’re not supposed to mention this in public debate or the newspapers, but our transport police are corrupt.I’m terribly sorry to bring those tidings, and I trust it isn’t just some freak of fate of my own to have borne witness to so many transport police efforts at bribery.

Maybe, in fact, a small film-set bubble has been created around my own movement, which, like some Truman Show scenario has seen me witness and party to countless staged, fake and acted police corruption scenes, none of which were genuine.

But I’m going to go with the evidence of my own eyes on this one and say if there is any citizen in Kenya who isn’t aware that our transport police are corrupt, they must never go outdoors.

So, we have laws. And the (sole) enforcers are corrupt.

Those are our circumstances. Now let’s add a little dash of extra spice to rev up the number of deaths caused by our road vehicles – because here we are with another 1,859 people killed on our roads from January to mid-August.

That’s, by now, 2000 more families grieving the untimely and tragic loss of one of their own to our road carnage. And of those deaths, in our overlapping fun park, a full 38 per cent of those murdered were pedestrians, because our matatu drivers really don’t care, as such, about where the road ends, or where the walk ways begin.

And here’s the thing – why should they? Because very many of our matatus are owned by transport police.

So, if the transport police are the sole enforcers, and corrupt, there’s the magic extra: let the majority of our public transport also be owned by the same transport police – and all accountability is thereby gone. The laws become pointless.

The deaths rise. Maybe it’s good for the private hospital industry, the funeral industry, keeps population levels down a bit. Or maybe there is some other good reason why we would even think of letting transport police own matatus.

I’ll presume, in fact, there is some fantastic reason for letting the controlled be the controllers, and the enforcers be the very same people as the enforced against - and that some kind transport police will explain to me the big bonus for all the murdered in that particular seeming conflict of interests.

Or maybe our parliament could ban transport police from owning our public service vehicles? But whatever. As they think fit. And on to the thousands more funerals.

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