Most drivers would fail a driving test
KABUL (PAJHWOK) Driving licences can be bought in Afghanistan. Anyone with money can bribe their way to a licence before learning to drive. At least 60 percent of drivers have not passed a driving test. An Independent Media Consortium* (IMC) investigation.
Article 23 of the Afghan traffic law makes it mandatory to have a valid licence that is issued only to citizens 18 years and above after they have passed both a written and road test.
A licence costs 720 Afs (12 USD) but IMC found licences can be bought from touts for 8,000 Afs (140 USD) in Kabul and half the amount in the provinces. These so-called agents keep a small part as their service charge, and pass on most of the money to traffic officials who process forged documents and issue the licence.
IMC conducted interviews with at least one hundred drivers in Kabul city. While some 40 percent had got their licence through the regular channel, others had either bribed their way or were driving without a licence.
Licence for sale
Fifty three of the hundred interviewees confirmed they had paid a bribe.
Mohammad Haleem from Kabul who had learnt to drive before he got a licence said he paid a tout 7,000 Afs (122 USD) for it. He said he did not have the time to join a driving course, and the licence was bought some eight months ago. All that was required of him was to undergo a medical test conducted by the traffic department. The rest of the paper work was done by the so-called agent.
Daryoosh from Khenj in Panjsher province said his licence was also bought. He neither attended classes nor did the test. He paid 7,000 Afs for the licence last November. Asked if he knew the traffic rules, Daryoosh was honest enough to admit he had been fined “many times” for breaking rules. He also had no idea if his licence was legal. “Once I saw the licences of two other individuals. They were identical to mine,” he said.
Meanwhile Naseer Ahmad who is from 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 Afs,” he said. He claimed he did not attend driving classes because he already knew how to drive. But he insisted that he had studied the traffic rule book very carefully.
General Asadullah, Kabul traffic police chief, agreed there was some truth in the allegations of corruption leveled against his department. He claimed the department was making serious efforts to fight the misuse of its discretionary power. He for instance was taking a test of drivers who had received licences after completing the application procedure.
An agent, Hafizullah, told IMC the process of acquiring a driving licence has become more stringent since the start of the year. Previously an agent could get a licence even when the applicant was not present. The applicant had to only pay between 6,000 (104 USD) and 8,000 Afs (140 USD). Now the process both took longer, one week as opposed to a few days previously, and the applicant has to be present on both the first and last day that is when the application is submitted and the licence issued respectively.
According to Hafizullah, agents like him barely make 1,000 to 1,500 Afs (17 to 26 USD) on each application. All the money goes on bribing the different sections of the traffic department.
Kabul police chief told IMC his department does not renew licences issued outside the city because provincial traffic departments cannot always be trusted.
There may be some truth in his claim. Abdul Matin, a resident of Kabul, said he got his licence from Kunduz because it was “cheaper and easier” there. He paid 3,000 Afs 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 Afs 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 told IMC. “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.
Sher Mohammad whose left leg is paralysed plies a taxi with automatic gears between Pul-e-bagh-e-omumi and Darul Aman. He said he got a driving licence from the traffic department through a contact. “I had a lot of trouble getting it but eventually they had to give in,” he told IMC. He believes officials are wary of troubling the disabled. He showed IMC his licence but would not part with a photocopy.
According to him, the disabled drive without a licence. “The traffic police let us go when they see we are disabled,” he said.
Colonel Mohammad Saber Arghandeewal, deputy director of Kabul traffic police, says the disabled are not allowed to drive, and licences cannot be issued.
IMC interviewed many drivers without a licence.
Azizullah from Kabul has been driving for two years. “I don’t have the time or the money (to pay an agent),” he said in reply to why he had no licence. Hasn’t he been stopped by the traffic police? He claimed that most times he just paid a bribe and drove off.
Ata Mohammad has been driving for 10 years on the Kabul-Balkh highway. He did not think a licence proved his ability to drive. “I know all the traffic signs,” he said. According to him, driving schools do their job only in Kabul, while in the provinces the “traffic department is a black market”. Bribes and not competence in driving decided who would get a licence.
Mohammad Naser, 36, from Kabul’s 3rd District, has been driving a taxi between Mirwais Maidan and Dasht Barchi. While he has a licence, he said at least 20 other drivers on the same route drive without one. “Some of them are even minors. They simply pay a bribe when stopped by the police,” he claimed.
Driving sans licence on a public road is a punishable offence. Under the traffic law a violator can be imprisoned from one week to 40 days or made to pay a fine.
Traffic chief Asadullah said the police send many traffic violators to prison every year. The details were not available.
The IMC investigation revealed hundreds of licences in circulation were 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 has 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.
IMC is in possession of an audio recording of a meeting between a client and an agent who is heard assuring the former that he can provide an original licence. “I am getting a licence for 8,000 Afs. There are some people who make forged licence for 4,000 Afs, but these are not recorded in the traffic department. I provide legal licences. You can check the records two days after it has been issued, and see your name is recorded,” the tout is heard saying. However, when confronted by IMC, the man denied the voice was his.
Kabul police chief admitted licences were being forged, and it was difficult for the traffic police to make out originals from frauds.
Forgers were breaking security codes of the government printing house, which is the sole authority that prints driving and other licences, the head of the press, Aziz Shams told IMC.
He said the press has tried to crackdown on the practice by changing security codes every month, but to no avail. Everything from licences to registration plates and papers of vehicles were being forged, he rued. To his mind the problem could be dealt only with the issuing of electronic national identity cards – a plan in the pipeline – and more frequent changing of security codes.
Meanwhile, Hashmatullah Stanekzai, spokesperson for the Kabul police chief, admitted there was corruption in the issuing of driving licences.
He said the police in cooperation with the traffic department had shortened the process of getting a licence to keep agents out of the process.
Stanekzai insisted that anyone found guilty of perpetrating fraud was prosecuted. Intelligence officials were at work to prevent corruption.
Official figures maintained by the traffic department, Ministry of Interior, for the past three years show there were 10,520 accidents countrywide in which 4,471 people lost their lives and 12,917 were injured.
In Kabul alone last year there were 871 traffic accidents that killed 248 people and injured 918, according to deputy director Arghandeewal. The reasons for the high fatalities were both poor driving skills and drug use by the drivers.
Abdul Jabar, who drives a bus on the north highway for the Hesarak transporters union, was of the opinion that most drivers were unaware of traffic rules and were driving without a licence. And those that have one may have probably got it without passing a driving test, he said.
Abdul Hafiz, a driver in Kabul, thinks corruption is at the root of the accidents. “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 (AIHRC), said the commission was conducting a study on the lack of road safety. “Unfortunately corruption is ingrained in the system,” she said.
*Independent Media Consortium is a joint initiative of Pajhwok Afghan News, The Killid Group (radio and print media), Saba Media Organisation (Saba TV-Radio Nawa networks) 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.
A report by Killid’s Kreshma Fakhri and Pajhwok’s Khuja Baseer Fetri
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