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Corruption redux: Truckers forced to pay bribes in Torkham

Corruption redux: Truckers forced to pay bribes in Torkham

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Jan 24, 2019 - 09:22

JALALABAD (Pajhwok): After a break of several months, the border police personnel are once again extorting truckers in the Torkham border town of eastern Nangarhar province, Pajhwok Afghan News has learnt.

Last year, Pajhwok published a report about truck drivers alleging that the border police personnel in Torkham forcing them into paying bribes. Trucks loaded with goods were forced to park for days in the township and stopped from crossing the border. If drivers refused to pay bribes, their vehicles would not move.

After the release of the report last year, a team of the Interior Ministry raided different offices in Torkham to prevent corruption, but the border police commissar, his deputy and a number of other officials escaped. The deputy commissar was sentenced to five years in jail.

On October 2, 2018, Governor Hayatullah Hayat made an inspection trip to the town and 12 individuals were detained for illegally taking money from truckers. The level of corruption subsequently fell.

But truck drivers are once complaining that the police personnel are extorting them. Since the money thus received is not documented, it is difficult to authenticate. However, Pajhwok has obtained videos showing policemen take money from truckers.

There are reports about the amounts of bribe but drivers are said to pay 3,000 to 30,000 Pakistani rupees in bribe per vehicle. Based on official information, on average, around 500 cargo trucks move into and out of Torkham port. More than half of them belong to Afghans.

In this report, Pajhwok has obtained comments from traders, drivers, civil societyinfo-icon activists and members of the provincial council. They accused the police personnel of taking bribe. But authorities insist corruption in Torkham has decreased.

Video of police taking bribe

A video recorded secretly received by Pajhwok shows a border policeman taking money from a truck driver and putting it into his pocket. In another 13-second video: a policeman checks a cargo truck driver’s pocket. He starts beating the trucker after finding no money in his pockets.

Voice message of a former commissar

Pajhwok obtained verbal instructions of a former commissar, who was later replaced. He directed a policeman through a walkie-talkie to ensure that some vehicles departed earlier in the morning. Some sources claimed the trucks were allowed departure out of turn in return for bribes.

Drivers’ complaints

Hijrat, a cargo truck driver, alleged he had been waiting at the port for the past one month. Many trucks have since crossed the border after paying bribes, according to the truckers, apparently disturbed by the current state of affairs.

“We parked our trucks in Barikab area last night. The policemen manning a check-post there asked us for unlawful gratifications. Several drivers paid Rs3,000 each and departed earlier in the morning. But my vehicle remains parked,” he grumbled.

Shinwari, another driver, said: “By God, I have been here for 20 days; other drivers paying bribes have finished their work and departed. Policemen in plainclothes take money brazenly.”

Another driver, speaking on the condition of anonymity, revealed he had been made to wait for a month last time, But this time around, he was forced to pay Rs15,000 to avoid facing a similar delay. “I struck a deal with a border policeman and was permitted to move on.”

Problems of traders

Due to the bribery, traders say they are purchasing goods at high prices -- something that negatively impacts on the entire nation. Directors of Nangarhar marble factories’ community also said truck drivers were frequently asked for paying money at the Torkham gate because of traffic rush there.

 

Bilal Musazai, deputy director of the marble factory owners’ community, told Pajhwok the issue had been shared with the commissary, customs, municipality, transport and other government departments in the dry port. But so far, no one has paid attention to his complaint.

Noor Rahman, deputy head of the coordination council of entrepreneurs and truck drivers, accused policemen and custom personnel of doing nothing as long as they were not bribed.

Meanwhile, provincial chamber of commerce and industry officials confirmed the problem. Torkham gate guards collect bribes from truck divers through teenagers on different pretexts.

A spokesman for the chamber of commerce and industry, Shakirullah Safi, also charged that cargo truck drivers were forced to pay Rd 500 to Rs1000 per vehicle at check-points. Empty trucks are made to park for days but those loaded with fruits and vegetables are not subjected to long wait.

Khanzada Afghan, a trader, recalled he would pay in the past total expenses of Rs200,000 on a truckload of goods from Pakistaninfo-icon’s port city of Karachi to Nangarhar. But the cost has now increased three times, according to him.

Demurrage charges are another concern for traders. An amount of $120 had to be paid for a container parked for a month, he concluded.

Civil society & provincial council

Abdul Latif Waheedi, Nangarhar civil society council’s head, told Pajhwok the issue had been taken to the Presidential Palace and the Ministry of Interior. But the problem remained unsolved.

“We have to fight against extortion, We have shared the issue with media 


representatives and could offer evidence of police forcing cargo truck drivers to pay Rs500 to Rs60,000 in bribes per vehicle.”

Abdul Rahman Moawin, deputy head of the National Youth Committee, corroborated allegations that security guards at the Torkham gate compelled drivers to pay bribes for crossing the border.

He said trucks were parked from Torkham to Momand Dara district to force drivers into greasing palms of police.

A provincial council member, meanwhile, blasted Pakistani border guards for conniving at the illegal practice. Ajmal Omar claimed border police were fleecing truckers with the abetment of their Pakistani counterparts.

“When we arrived in Torkham to monitor the situation, we collected receipts from vehicles but the gate was closed. Policemen on both sides have telephonic contacts and exchange messages about the arrival of the monitoring team. Thus the gate is shut.”

Ashabuddin Wali, another member of the council, expressed similar views. He said truck drivers had no option but to offer policemen money to cross the border in time.

He said the truck are made to stay for even one month and finally they had to offer them money to quickly cross the border because the stay is a lost in other way to them. Another member of the council said evidence of the corrupt practice was not available because police used ordinary people to collect bribes for them.

Official reaction

Torkham commissary officials admitted corrupt practices were a nuisance in the past. But the scourge had been eliminated, they claimed. Lt. Col. Pacha, deputy commissar, said new officials had taken effective measure to stop corrupt practices.

Deputy Governor Tamim Arif Momand did not rule out corruption in state institutions and said drivers and businessmen had registered complaints of corruption in Torkham. “Many complaints were registered against former officials. With the appointment of new officials, things have changed and we will see what happens next.”

Last week, he recalled, a delegation headed by Presidential Advisor Samiullah Momand visited Torkham and investigated charges of corruption.  The delegation took notice of public complaints against the commissary, customs, municipality, transport and other department.

The deputy governor acknowledged complaints against all departments, saying the commissar had been replaced. Activities of the new appointee were being monitored, he added.

The Nangarhar appellant court said no case linked to bribes had been filed yet. But a different bribery case was filed from Torkham at the appellant court three month back.  Judged Fazal Walli Qazizada said the case was related to two people from Shamshad Civil Society Organisation who asked drivers for illegal payments.

Nangarhar Transport Director Khan Wazir acknowledged the frequent congestion caused by trucks in Torkham. Following a spate of complaints, a delegation from the Presidential Palace recently visited the port city to resolve the issue. He, however, did not provide information about corrupt practices and said so far he had not received such information.

nh/sa/pk/mud

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