Corruption rife in Afghan traffic departments

Investigation finds driving licences can easily be forged and bought, and many on the roads haven’t been tested.

More than half of Afghans interviewed said they paid a bribe in order to get a driver's license [EPA]

Kabul, Afghanistan – Afghanistan’s driver licencing-system is a mess.

Licences can be easily bought, forgeries are readily available, bribery is widespread, and many Afghans on the road have not passed a driving test.

Officially, a driver’s licence costs 720 afghans ($12), but they can also be bought from “touts”, or agents, for about 8,000 afghans ($140) in Kabul and for about half that amount in the provinces. These agents keep a small part of the fee for themselves, and use the remainder to bribe various traffic officials, who process and issue forged documents.

In interviews with 100 drivers in Kabul, the capital, 40 percent said they had gotten their licence through regular channels, while the rest had paid a bribe or were driving without one.

Licence for sale

Fifty-three of the hundred interviewees confirmed they had paid a bribe. Mohammad Haleem, a Kabul resident who learned how to drive before getting a licence, said he paid a tout 7,000 afghans ($122) to obtain it because he did not have the time to enrol in a driving course. All he had to do was take a medical test conducted by the traffic department, and the tout filled out the rest of the paperwork.

Similarly, Daryoosh from Panjsher province paid 7,000 afghans ($122) for a driver’s licence last November. He neither attended classes nor took a road test. Asked whether he knew the traffic rules, Daryoosh was honest enough to admit that he had been fined “many times” for breaking rules. He also had no idea whether his licence was legal. “Once I saw the licences of two other individuals,” he said. “They were identical to mine.”

Naseer Ahmad of Kabul said his six-month-old licence was issued by the traffic department. “I knew the [traffic] authorities, and I got the driving licence after paying the official amount of 720 afghans,” he said. He said he did not attend driving classes because he already knew how to drive. But he insisted he had studied the traffic rule book carefully.

Kabul’s traffic police chief, General Asadullah, agreed there was some truth to allegations of corruption in the department, but he said it was making serious efforts to fight the misuse of its power.

Meanwhile, Hashmatullah Stanekzai, a spokesperson for the Kabul police chief, said the police in cooperation with the traffic department had shortened the process of getting a licence to keep agents out of the equation. Stanekzai insisted that anyone found guilty of perpetrating fraud was prosecuted, and that intelligence officials were working to prevent corruption.

One tout named Hafizullah said the process of acquiring a driver’s licence has become more stringent since the start of the year. Previously, an agent could get one even when the applicant was not present. Now, it takes longer and the person must be there when the application is submitted and when the licence is issued.

According to Hafizullah, agents like him make only 1,000 to 1,500 afghans ($17-26) on each application, with the rest of the money going to bribe different sections of the traffic department.

Widespread fraud

Kabul’s police chief said his department does not renew licences issued outside the city because provincial traffic departments cannot always be trusted.

Many Afghans pay bribes to get driver’s licences {AP]

There may be some truth to his claim. Abdul Matin, a resident of Kabul, said he got his licence from Kunduz province because it was “cheaper and easier” there. He paid 3,000 afghans a year ago.

Hamidullah, another driver, has a licence issued in Takhar province. Asked if he had gone to Takhar, he said he paid 3,000 afghans and the document was sent to him in Kabul by a friend. “There is no difference in a licence issued in Kabul or elsewhere,” he said. “It is just that should someone want a licence made in Kabul, they have to pay more money and wait a longer time.”

Asked why this state of affairs was tolerated in Takhar, Abdul Azim, a deputy chief in the traffic department, said it was not always possible to supervise affairs in insecure provinces.

Disability advantage

Sher Mohammad, whose left leg is paralysed, plies a taxi with automatic gears between the Pul-e-bagh-e-omumi bazaar and Darul Aman palace in Kabul. He said he got a driver’s licence from the traffic department through a contact of his. “I had a lot of trouble getting it, but eventually they had to give in,” he said.

Colonel Mohammad Saber Arghandeewal, the deputy director of Kabul’s traffic police, said the disabled are not allowed to drive, and licences cannot be issued to them. But according to Sher Mohammad, many Afghans with disabilities drive anyhow. “The traffic police let us go when they see we are disabled,” he said.

It’s not just the disabled who lack a licence. Azizullah from Kabul said he has been driving for two years without one. “I don’t have the time or the money [to pay an agent],” he explained. When stopped by the traffic police, he said he usually paid a bribe and drove off.

Ata Mohammad, who has been driving for 10 years on the Kabul-Balkh highway, said he does not think a licence proves his ability to drive. “I know all the traffic signs,” he said. According to him, driving schools are effective only in Kabul, while in the provinces the “traffic department is a black market”.

Driving without a license on a public road is a punishable offence, and violators can be imprisoned from one week to 40 days or pay a fine. Although Asadullah, the traffic chief, said the police send many traffic violators to prison every year, exact figures were not available.

If corruption is not prevented … the number of traffic accidents will increase.

by - Abdul Hafiz, Kabul driver

Clever forgeries

A large number of licences in circulation have been found to be counterfeit.

Naweed Ahmad, a taxi driver in Kabul, said he got one such clever forgery two years ago from an agent. It was of no use to him, and he applied for a new licence at the traffic department. “Were all driving licences in the country to be reviewed, many thousand forged licences would be detected,” he said.

Kabul’s police chief admitted that documents were being forged, and it was difficult for the traffic police to discern originals from frauds. Forgers have broken security codes at the government printing house, which is the sole authority that produces driving and other licences, said Aziz Shams, the head of the press.

Shams said the printing house has tried to crack down on the practice by changing security codes every month, but to no avail, adding everything from licences to registration plates and vehicle papers were being forged. He said he believes the problem can be dealt with only by issuing electronic national identity cards and changing security codes more frequently.

Fatal accidents

Official figures by the traffic department and the Ministry of Interior over the past three years show there were 10,520 accidents countrywide, in which 4,471 people died and 12,917 were injured.

In Kabul alone last year, 871 traffic accidents killed 248 people and injured 918, according to Colonel Arghandeewal. Two major reasons for the high number of fatalities were poor driving skills and drug use.

Abdul Hafiz, a driver in Kabul, said he thinks corruption is the root cause of the carnage. “If corruption is not prevented … the number of traffic accidents will increase,” he predicted.

Meanwhile, Hawa Alam Nuristani, a commissioner in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the organisation was conducting a study on the lack of road safety. “Unfortunately, corruption is ingrained in the system,” she said.

The Independent Media Consortium, which produced this report, is a joint initiative of Pajhwok Afghan News, The Killid Group, Saba Media Organisation and daily newspaper Hasht-e-Subh. This story is part of a series of investigative reports on corruption and human rights cases supported by Tawanmandi.

Source: Pajhwok Afghan News