Eye Radio Helps the Public Fight Corruption by Police

In South Sudan, a lack of information surrounding laws and policies can make it difficult for ordinary citizens to spot corrupt activities being carried out by the authorities. Eye Radio has recently been publicizing public concerns over corrupt practices involving traffic police.

In June 2019, the Interior Minister of Interior was criticized for telling security officers to shoot motorists who failed to comply with traffic stops while driving tinted or non-compliant vehicles. Eye Radio confronted the directive by interviewing lawmakers and lawyers to interpret the law and engage the public in a discussion on their experiences with the order.

This order followed a crackdown on vehicles with tinted windows. Eye Radio first learned of harassment and extortion from the public who said the order was unconstitutional and only encouraged more corrupt practices from authorities. Others insisted that the government is responsible for allowing the importation of tinted window vehicles, as they already collected fees at border entry points.

“First of all, the ordinary person respects the laws; it is the men in uniform and the big guys who do not respect orders or laws. They are the ones you find driving these tinted and numberless land-cruisers and V8s,” said James Mangar, a resident of Wau town.

Motorists in Juba reported increased levels of harassment and extortion by traffic police officers. “Even on a Sunday, they stopped me and wrote a note charging me 5,000SSP for driving a car with factory-made tint. The paper is not even an official document, and there is no stamp. They said I can drive freely for the next 15 days using this paper,” said a motorist who spoke on conditions of anonymity.

The Minister of Interior, Michael Chianjiek, told traffic police and other officers of the organized forces that those driving tinted or numberless vehicle are considered “criminals,” and if anyone refuses to stop when ordered, the officers are “free to shoot.”

“When you go with a tinted window car, and we said it is not allowed…[and] some people cover their number plates, why do you do that? Who are you afraid of?” Chanjiek asked, adding that “it means you are a criminal.” He also said, “The directives of the President that everyone using a car without a number-plate should be shot, should be implemented. If you find a vehicle without a number plate and the motorist refuses to stop, shoot them immediately.”

After Eye Radio aired the story about the extortion, parliamentarians and activists went on the radio to describe the actions as “irresponsible, dangerous and unlawful” – especially after the Interior Minister ordered the organized forces to shoot the motorists. Some prominent lawyers threatened to take legal action against the Minister of Interior for ordering the police to shoot motorists who disobey verbal and unlawful traffic orders. One told Eye Radio that they will sue the Minister for making “reckless” statements that could potentially endanger the lives of the ordinary citizens.

Issa Muzamil, an advocate in Juba, said his firm will seek legal action against the Minister of Interior due to the statements. “It has turned out that every time…the traffic police are broke, they come and launch operations, they extort money from the public when they are satisfied with the money, they disappear,” said Muzamil.

Meanwhile, after the pressure become too much on the government, the Minister of Information went to the press and said the security forces were only permitted to shoot at the tires of a tinted vehicle, if the driver refuses to stop, but not shoot at the motorists as previously indicated by the Minister of Interior.

However, defying public outcry, two weeks after the story broke, traffic police returned to the roads harassing motorists over factory tints charging a fine of 7,000SSP. Allegedly, paying the fine allows the motorist to drive the vehicle for six months – a move that lawyers say makes the process an illegal business.

Eye Radio continued to engage lawmakers, lawyers, activists and the public on the extortion challenges after the harassment resumed. The Minister of Information finally announced that such vehicles would no longer be targeted.

In an exclusive interview with Eye Radio, Major General, Kon John Akot said his department has detained 85 police officers and dismissed eight over extortion attempts against motorists in Juba.

“We have currently arrested 85 police officers. Eight of them are of different ranks. Some of them have ranks of second lieutenant and captain. We have dismissed them from the service, and some have been taken to the court,” said Gen. Akot.

Related Stories:

Eye Media is a 100% South Sudanese media development organization, which runs Eye Radio 98.6 FM, the most popular radio station in the capital Juba.  Eye Media receives support from the USAID-funded i-STREAM project, implemented by Internews.