Police corruption in Zimbabwe has become endemic during Covid-19 lockdown periods to the extent that citizens now call US$10 the “national identity card” to pass a roadblock.
Police corruption is the misuse of police authority for personal gain.
Examples include extortion (demanding money for not writing traffic tickets) and bribery (accepting money in exchange for not enforcing the law).
The World Bank (1997) defines corruption as the abuse of public office through rent-seeking activities for private gain when an official accepts, solicits, or extorts a bribe.
Zimbabwe is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
On a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), the Corruption Perceptions Index score for Zimbabwe was just 24.
Roadblocks are often used to extort goods or bribes.
The majority of Zimbabweans perceive the police as the most corrupt institution in the country.
According to Afrobarometer, May 2015, one in four survey respondents who had contact with the police had paid a bribe to obtain a service or to avoid problems and business executives generally demonstrate a low degree of trust in the reliability of the police.
Police often set up roadblocks for border control, highway safety, and crime control.
The stated purposes of roadblocks are usually legalised licence and registration verification, proof of citizenship, and seatbelt usage.
In practice, none of this happens.
The police no longer carry “traffic tickets” that give motorists the choice of either appearing in court, or admitting guilt and paying the deposit towards the fine.
In this regard police corruption has managed to sand the wheels of growth and development in Zimbabwe in the following ways:
Consumption of time as a resource in the production process.
Time is one of the most important resources for individuals and companies as well as the national economy.
Nicoleta Caragea (2010) concluded that the economic welfare of a country, measured by GDP, depends on the working time.
There is a direct correlation between GDP and time, as such, increasing time allotted for work could be a source of economic growth.
In Zimbabwe, a lot of productive time is lost due to police roadblocks as the drivers take long to pay the bribes required.
For example, approximately two months of productive time is being lost by a single working individual in police roadblocks in a year.
At one point, I took a road trip for a journey of 90km, recording the approximate time we were waiting on the roadblock, which ranged from five to 20 minutes.
To give an average stopping time of 12.5 minutes per roadblock, there were four police road blocks within the 90km, so the average time lost on the two-way journey was 1 hour 40 minutes.
Translating this into a five-day working period, lost time would be approximately 8 hours 20 minutes.
In a year with 52 weeks, it would turn into 433.33 hours lost which is equivalent to 54 working days of 8 hours long each which is approximately two months.
Forex leakages and financial disintermediation
For motorists to pass the roadblock, they need to give the police officers a minimum of US$10 in bribe money, as such, individuals need to carry with them hard cash of forex in order to pass the roadblocks. Using the example from my 90km road trip with four roadblocks, a single vehicle will have to leave US$40 per trip, assuming a minimum of 30 vehicles passing by, leaving US$40 each.
With three officers, it would mean that each takes home US$100 per day and US$500 per five-day week and in a year each collects about US$26 000 (500 by 52 weeks).
Most of the money is totally withdrawn from the local circular flow as it is spent on importing Japanese cars or foreign-produced goods paid in cash.
Taking the situation at a national level, assuming four such roads in each province, with four police roadblocks, in the 10 provinces of the country, approximately
US$ 12 480 000 ( 26 000 by three officers at four roadblocks in 10 provinces) is lost to police corruption and leaving the circular flow, mostly feeding imports.
If more than $12 million can be lost due to police corruption each year, one can clearly see that police corruption is indeed crippling growth in the economy.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, demand for transportation has become less elastic, as individuals are faced with limited options, as such, the transport owners have decided to shift entirely the burden of the bribe fees to the passengers by doubling the price.
In that 90km road, the usual transport fares are $5 per trip, but due to increased roadblocks in that route, the fare is now us$10, as the transport owners would argue that the increase in price is because of the roadblocks where they need to leave some money.
Because corruption money on roadblocks is paid in US dollars hard cash, this has suddenly resulted in an increased demand for forex.
Since it is easier to get foreign currency on the black market, the black market exchange rate between the Zimbabwean dollar and the US dollar has ballooned.
This in turn has caused the official exchange rate gazetted by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to trail behind.
The difference in exchange rate is widening the income gap between the rich and most poor civil servants who receive their salaries in domestic currency and use the black market to obtain the US dollars. This, therefore, means that Zimbabwe will struggle to ensure income equality and economic development in the presence of this kind of police corruption.
l High levels of fines. This gives both the public and the police officers an incentive to settle for bribe money which is lower than to pay the full fine. According to Bill Watch of March 2021, on January 28, 2021, A level 1 fine, of $200 rose to $1 000, A level two fine of $300 rose to $2 000, A level three fine, which was $500, is now $5 000, and the remaining fines have been doubled. As such, a rational motorist would therefore opt for a bribe of US$10 which is the cheapest option.
l Spot fines. The decision to allow the police officers to retain the fines they collect creates an incentive for the over-regulation of traffic and inducement to find as many motorists as possible guilty of traffic offences, real or imagined, and makes it easier for them to collect the bribe moneys and to demand some as well.
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l Public disclosure of official roadblocks spots. In countries like Kenya, during the lockdown period, authorities released a list of spots where police would erect roadblocks in the affected counties to contain the spread of coronavirus.
This is important as it will reduce the number of bogus and rent-seeking police officers on the roads across the country.
To the best of my knowledge, no such announcement was made in Zimbabwe.
The need to review fines downwards so as to reduce the incentive to settling for a bribe.
Spot fines to be abandoned so that it eliminates police officers access to money while on duty, rather fines could be charged and paid, say, when paying licence fees.
Allowing fines to be paid as deposits or transfers only so as to promote financial intermediation.
Publicly listing all the spots where roadblocks will be erected in the country.
International engagement with organisations such as the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Benhilda Gwacha Dube is an economist
*These weekly opinion articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators in Zimbabwe .