Since the implementation of the two-day weekend (Friday and Saturday) in 2008, the number of people travelling outside the capital, Khartoum, to adjacent and nearby states has increased substantially over weekends. It is usually difficult to find a vacant seat on buses departing from Khartoum on Thursdays before the start of the weekend. Moreover, it is difficult to find a vacant seat on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning on buses returning to Khartoum after the weekend break. The number of passengers who want to purchase tickets for travel are often more than the buses available to transport them.
The passengers’ congestion creates a conducive environment for illicit financial gain by bus drivers and conductors and as such constitutes deviations from the standard rules and regulations established to regulate this transaction, the transportation of passengers by travel coaches across interstate highways. Such an environment helps to nurture a specific corruption scenario that stretches to include highway traffic police and other staff of ground transportation companies.
The corruption starts at the point of sale of bus tickets to a passenger at the ticket offices. It is set in motion when no more tickets are available for purchase at the official price at the ticket office. This is usually after only about 20-25 tickets have been sold, whereas the bus’s seating capacity is for 48 passengers. These remaining seats are then sold in the black market by bus conductors for 50 to 60 Sudanese Pounds (SDG), almost double the official price of 33 SDG set by the transportation authority in consultation with the transport companies. The victims who face this kind of corruption are frequently ‘fished out’ from the crowd of potential passengers. These criminals target those who seem to be in a ‘hurry’ and are therefore willing to pay any price for a seat. They are usually fished out at the entrance of the port, or at nearby markets.
As people begin to complain about the few number of tickets being sold officially at the ticket office, they are repeatedly met with blatant lies, to cover up the corruption that has taken place in front of many passenger’s eyes. They are told that some of tickets have been reserved for members of the regular armed forces or that some of the tickets were reserved in advance by other regular passengers.
This corruption continues further at the departure gates after all tickets have been sold either at the official price at the ticket office or in the ‘black market’. At this stage of the corruption saga, the bus conductors and driver, in an unmistakable criminal agreement with the highway police—who are responsible for recording the departure time of the bus, the approval of the passengers’ list and ensuring that the bus’s capacity is not exceeded—load more passengers. The bus is now above its capacity, though none of the names of the new passengers are added to the passengers’ list. The extra passengers are usually seated in the bus’s front passenger seat, located beside the driver’s seat, or on the floor of the bus between seats, on a water cooler near the driver’s seat and on the steps of the exit door at the back of the bus. These illegal practices are usually done under the watch of the highway traffic police, who then sign off on a passenger list missing these newly added passengers.
The most dangerous component of this corruption is the registration of a false time of departure, which is stamped on the bus’s manifesto by the highway police officer. For example, if the real time of departure is 6:00 PM, the police officer will note the departure time as 5:30 PM. The stamp of the correct time of departure is significant because highway police, according to the standard rules and regulations, should monitor the speed of buses on the highway by checking the time stamp at specific checkpoints against the distance covered to rule whether the driver is speeding. The falsification of the time stamp at departure allows drivers to cruise beyond the standard speed limit to reach destinations faster and therefore be able to carry out additional trips. The financial incentive behind such violations is substantial since drivers and conductors are paid based on the number of trips they make. The network of police officers who conspire to facilitate this corruption are also paid about 10 SDG for all trips completed. The corruption in turn extends to patrol police officers at checkpoints along the highway who, according to the rules, ought to monitor and review the passenger list, the time of departure and check for any other violations. The officers manning these checkpoints are usually notified in advance, by phone or other communication means available to them, by their colleagues at the departing port of the bus. Such communications shield the bus drivers and conductors from questioning and accountability.
The majority of Sudanese people face similar instances of corruption on a daily basis. It has become part of their daily routine, however only very few citizens question these practices or object to them in fear of reprisal or a delay of their transactions. However, a lot of risks and life-threatening consequences may result from turning a blind eye to this corruption, which violates the rules and regulations of highway safety and ground transportation. For example, if a traffic accident occurred for a bus with the above-mentioned violations, all passengers would lose their legal rights and entitlement for compensation in the case of death or injury. Most, if not all, insurance companies would provide insurance coverage for registered passengers in the bus’s passenger list only when the bus drivers abide by the rules and regulations enshrined in the traffic laws. These include the number of passengers and the speed limit on highways. It is also a known fact that insurance companies most often drag out the process, even initiating legal proceedings and raising the premiums against bus companies when the latter violates legal insurance agreements.
The danger of this type of corruption is that it puts not just the passengers on the bus, but also the other highway users, assets and animals in the surrounding areas, in serious risk.
It’s worth noting that these types of corruption schemes usually involve many actors who collectively, with a premeditated criminal intent and agreement, conspire to put together and execute such schemes. In this case, the conductors, drivers, traffic police, officials at ticket windows and the ground transport companies are all implicated in the execution of this corruption.
There are a number of reasons that contribute to the prevalence of such corruption, among them is the high demand for bus transportation between states unlike other forms of transportation, particularly since the near collapse and deterioration of the railway transport system and the nonexistence of air transport between Khartoum and adjacent states. Another reason is the weak mechanisms employed to monitor the behavior of all actors involved in this corruption, as well as the lack of an efficient mechanism which ensures enforcement of the rules and regulations established by transport authorities in regard to bus speed, timing and capacity. Leaving the enforcement of these rules and regulations to the judgment of the highway traffic police officers alone, without a mechanism that monitors their performance, has created a conducive environment and opened doors for corrupt officers to exhaust this opportunity with a clear intention of enriching themselves and compensate for their low pay.
To address the inefficient mechanisms employed to enforce laws and regulations, a more practical solution would be to set up radars at certain points along the highway to monitor the speed of buses. In addition to gauging the bus speed between manned checkpoints, these radars would provide watchdogs that deter and discourage these corrupt practices by patrol officers.
Finally, another possible solution to this problem is the erection of radars at city entrance points or gates to facilitate monitoring departure and arrival time of buses, instead of leaving this important piece of information to the judgment of the patrol police officer. It is well known that when public officials, including the patrol and highway traffic police, recognize that their behavior is being watched, they would think twice before violating the rules and regulations or taking part in a criminal agreement that creates this or similar corrupt situations.