When the Centre for Social Research 2013 Governance and Corruption survey rated the traffic police as the most corrupt of all public institutions, I burst into laughter. I mean is that not obvious?
Every person who has ever travelled on the roads of Malawi by private or public transport knows that all you need less than K2 000 to get out of any mess that you have found yourself into.
Apart from moral decay, perhaps the issue that needs to be looked into is what causes police officers to accept a bribe as low as K2 000?
Let me take you through an average day of a traffic police officer. It is month end and this officer, who has a family and a child, receives K40 000 salary. They have to pay rent, utility bills, buy food and pay school fees from the same amount. In just three days, they have nothing in their account. How do we expect them to live the rest of the days of the month?
Stories flood social media about how some traffic officers who, after inspecting a car and seeing that there is nothing wrong, would end up asking for K200 just to buy a bottle of Fanta.
Traffic duties are no longer about road safety, they are an income-generating activity for traffic officers and the Government of Malawi has also joined this lucrative business. Of course, with the meagre salary, the shares are split between traffic officers and government.
The quickest way to anger a traffic officer is to pay a traffic fine and request for a government issued receipt.
Other police officers too find themselves in this predicament. However, unlike traffic officers who have a traffic income generation venture, these officers take part time jobs where they receive certain amounts. Half the amount finds its way into the system and they only take home the other half.
What should stop this officer from giving his rifle to an armed robber who offers him K500 000 just to use for a few hours?
Corruption and crime is in no way justifiable. However, there are some conditions that officers are subjected to which make them susceptible to corruption and crime especially when their main source of income allows them to pay rent and utility bills only.
Perhaps what needs to be done in this country is to go beyond the practice of commissioning studies that reveal the obvious sometimes. Steps need to be taken to address the underlying causes that compel traffic officers to receive a bribe from vehicle owners.
Apart from providing adequate funding to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to net those involved in the act, the state needs to revise the living conditions of police officers to live dignified lives; the dignified life that allows traffic police officers to afford a decent shelter, water, food and clothing.
It is through such reforms that Malawi will start to make meaningful steps in the fight against corruption.