The on-going traffic police operation is neither a new law nor an amendment to the existing vehicular traffic law in Uganda. From the one-pager that was shown to me at Ndaiga Traffic Police check-point, the operation is being carried out under a standard operating procedure (SOP) codenamed Fika Salaama but some of the police officers charged with the implementation of this SOP, either out of ignorance or deliberate attempts to mislead the unsuspecting motorists, insist that this is a new law with new sanctions that was recently passed by the Parliament of Uganda.
The new sanctions, according to them, include confiscating the driving permit, impounding the vehicle, police detention for a minimum of 48 hours prior to prosecution in a court of law regardless of the offence committed.
Since the beginning of the year, I have come across traffic police in Iganga and Ndaiga near Tororo town and all of them appear to hold the same view. Indeed the police in Iganga detained a member of my family whom they had arrested at 2pm for a whole night despite the fact that he had accepted the offence of driving a minibus with a class B driving permit, a scenario which would have resulted in a spot fine.
While I have not read the said SOP, I have no doubt in my mind that SOPs do not constitute new laws or amendments thereof. SOPs are guidelines for application of the provisions of the law by the relevant category of public officers in this case police officers.
It is, therefore, illegal for the high-handed traffic police officers to confer arbitrary powers on themselves under cover of this well-intended operation and SOP.
I have also noticed that some traffic police officers do not distinguish between a traffic offender and a suspected robber, rapist or other criminals. Exceeding speed limit of 50 kph in Ndaiga by 12 kph, on a clear road without heavy traffic, should at most attract a caution without any attempt to humiliate the driver by asking him to go to the charge office, impounding the vehicle, confiscating driver’s licence, etc.
In Tanzania, a traffic police officer will stop you and tell you the reason for it but quickly release you with a courtesy safe trip wish “safari njema”
Having said that, I must say that I am a law abiding citizen who is fully supportive of the women and men of the Uganda Police Force, some of whom work in extremely difficult circumstances to keep our roads safe from reckless drivers, especially the long haul taxi drivers and local construction truck drivers of the so-called magulu kumi.