VICE President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, yesterday said police had eroded public confidence in their administration of spot fines for minor traffic offences through corrupt activities. Police, he said echoing a 2012 judgment by the Bulawayo High Court, were legally empowered to impose fines – but they could not insist on the payment of those fines on the spot.
Justices Lawrence Kamocha and Maphios Cheda held that motorists who committed minor traffic offences should be issued a ticket to pay a fine as stipulated in level 5 of the sentencing guidelines.
“The said ticket should give the motorist a reasonable time within which to pay the fine in accordance with their regulations unless the said offender elects to pay the fine on the spot,” the judges said, while making it clear that “the police are empowered and authorised to impose a fine not exceeding $200 depending on their Regulations”, and should never send motorists to court unless if they disputed the alleged offence and imposition of a fine.
The judges sat as a court of appeal in case HB 167/12 that was brought by a motorist, Zaine Babbage, who had been jailed for 14 days for using a mobile phone while driving.
Yesterday, VP Mnangagwa said spot fines were introduced to ease pressure on the courts – but police corruption at roadblocks had caused the public to lose confidence in the system.
“We’re concerned with the abuse that the police may be doing on the spot fine facility,” VP Mnangagwa said speaking soon after addressing students of the Joint Command and Staff Course Number 28 at the Zimbabwe Defence College on the Constitution of Zimbabwe in Harare.
“There is serious concern about the abuse by some police officers who take bribes and don’t issue tickets or receipts of the money they receive from motorists.”
The debate around spot fines was reignited earlier this week by Justice Francis Bere of the Harare High Court who, at the opening of the Masvingo High Court circuit, passed a comment that “there’s no law which compels a motorist to deposit a fine with the police if he (the motorist) desires to challenge the alleged offence.”
Police, the judge said, often seized keys from motorists and threatened to impound their cars in a bid to induce fear and force them to pay fines on the spot – when the law provided that they should be given at least up to seven days to settle the fine.
VP Mnangagwa said he agreed with the judge’s interpretation of the law, despite the fact he was not in court and was just passing a comment.
“First, the judge was not in court and he didn’t make any judgments. He made a statement which anybody can make anywhere and that cannot be the law of the country,” he said.
The second issue is; was he correct or not correct despite the fact that he was not in court? It’s true that there is no specific or express law that provides for such (insisting on spot fines).
“However, administratively, the spot fines were gazetted for various reasons, including among others, the fact that there are very minor offences, which if we strictly want them to go to court we would flood our courts with thousands of minor offences which only require one to pay a fine of $10 or $20 within seven days.
“We don’t have such accommodation. So, this is an administrative method to ease the dispensation and delivery of justice.”
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo, writing on Facebook last night, said “while the media spotlight on ZRP spot fines has hogged the limelight, it has sadly not shed any light on an issue with immense public interest.”
“In fact the mainstream media has since last Tuesday created utter confusion through misleading reports about the alleged illegality of ZRP spot fines,” he said.
“First, the mainstream media reported on Tuesday that Justice Bere had ruled that ZRP spot fines are illegal and that this alleged ruling was made by the judge while he was giving a speech opening the 2015 High Court circuit in Masvingo province.
“There were two serious problems with these reports which have caused untold confusion and misunderstanding about an important matter that affects the monitoring public.
“The first problem is that it turns out that Justice Bere did not actually rule that ZRP spot fines are illegal. Rather, all that Justice Bere said on this connection was that “there’s no law which compels a motorist to deposit a fine with the police if he (the motorist) desires to challenge the alleged offence. Furthermore, Justice Bere bemoaned the manner in which the police sometimes go about enforcing the law in a manner that smacks of corruption.
“The fact of the matter is that the law does in fact empower the ZRP to impose spot fines where a motorist does not contest the alleged infringement of a traffic law and willingly signs an admission of guilt form. Justice Bere did not contest this but he decried alleged bully tactics by police who sometimes engage in that unlawful practice to intimidate motorists into admitting guilt against the presumption of innocence.
“The second problem with how the mainstream media carried misleading reports about Justice Bere’s Masvingo speech is that it was treated as a court judgment when it was only a statement of opinion which was not made in a properly constituted court. A binding judicial opinion can only be made in a court of law and nowhere else.”
VP Mnangagwa said it was worrisome that a person driving on a highway at 80km/hour in a 60km/hour zone can be charged by police for speeding even in the absence of a sign indicating the speed limit.
He said the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development must ensure that road signs are in place so that motorists are not criminalised.
VP Mnangagwa said every citizen needed to play an important role in dealing with corruption.
Cde Mnangagwa said corruption was hindering development and there should be no sacred cows when dealing with the scourge.
“I for one, with the position I have now, will deal with the issue in the cluster that I now administer,” he told reporters.
VP Mnangagwa is responsible for supervising the ministries of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development; Health and Child Care; Lands and Rural Resettlement; Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare; Mines and Mining Development; Tourism and Hospitality Industry; Higher and Tertiary Education; Science and Technology Development; Sport, Arts and Culture; and Small to Medium Enterprises and Co-operative Development.
The Vice President said the government was in the process of reconstituting the Anti-Corruption Commission whose term of office expired in August last year.
Last night, lawyers said the ZRP was in contempt of court for ignoring the judgment by Justices Kamocha and Cheda, specifically the insistence on paying fines on the spot even where motorists wished to challenge or did not have money and are allowed by law to settle a fine after seven days.
Advocate Thabani Mpofu said: “The judgment is binding on the police and they must quickly comply with it.
“That’s the only option. Berating the judge in public will not make the judgment go away.”
Chris Mhike of Artherstone and Cook law firm added: “A judgment of the High Court is authoritative in directing the State, agents of the State and all citizens on how they should conduct themselves in terms of the law.
“The Bulawayo High Court judgment when read together with Justice Bere’s comments, certainly translates into definite law that must be respected and obeyed by all and sundry, including the ZRP.
“The police must therefore proceed in terms of the judicial precedent that was established in the case of Zaine Babbage versus the State.”