Michuki Rules: Kenya back to square one
Fourteen years after the success of the famous ‘Michuki Rules’ in 2004, implementation has become so lax and accidents so rampant that the country is hitting the reset button.
The laws were introduced by the no-nonsense Transport minister John Michuki, hence the moniker ‘Michuki Rules’. Enforcement was both brutal and reprieving, bringing order to the public transport sector for the first time in Kenya’s history.
The radical regulations drastically reduced road accidents by 74 per cent nationally. Fatal road crashes involving urban public service vehicles fell by a whopping 94 per cent in just three months.
But things fell apart after Michuki left the Transport ministry. The wake-up call after a series of accidents was the Fort Ternan bus crash on October 10, which killed 52 on the Kisumu–Muhoroni Highway.
“We are good at drafting good policies and laws, but all of them are turned into cash cows,” says Simon Kimutai, chairman of the Matatu Owners Association.
“That is why Michuki laws have failed. We will have a crackdown today, then after a few days, we will go back to zero because of corruption.”
Before the Michuki Rules came into being, the public transport sector was largely controlled by criminal gangs and run like a jungle scheme.
When the government moved to assert its authority, the cartels used organised criminal gangs to fight back, prompting the government to form special police lock-up teams to eliminate the gangs. Many members of the gangs were killed.
Traffic police had teamed up with Transport ministry officials in implementing the laws. PSV owners and operators, as well as passengers, had to comply with a raft of requirements to be on road, which reduced accidents and enhanced safety and comfort on roads.
WHAT LAWS SAID
Michuki had ordered all public service vehicles to install seat belts, have a yellow line and carry only up to their capacity, with the capacity of each category determined by the law.
Before then, matatu and bus crews determined the number of passengers to carry and the routes to use.
The rules required the PSVs to have safety belts, speed limiters and a yellow line. Passengers were required to fasten their safety belts while traveling.
Thousands of unroadworthy vehicles and their crooked operators countrywide were eliminated from the roads during the crackdown, putting an end to the chaos in the industry.
But this is no longer the case, as the disorder eradicated by Michuki crept back into the public transport system shortly after he was moved to the Internal Security ministry.
Everything went back to normal, and the families and government have paid the price, with massive sums spent on treatment and rehabilitation of accident victims.
Most passengers and motorists only have nostalgic memories of the road sanity achieved through the punitive rules. Today, only a few PSV operators are still compliant with the Michuki Rules, after enforcement slackened.
Now Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and his Transport counterpart James Macharia are embarking on enforcing the same rules today.
Whether Matiang’i will succeed where his predecessors have failed or not remains to be seen. But Kimutai is not holding his breath.
CORRUPTION UNDERMINES DRIVE
Kimutai says Matiang’i should deal with corrupt traffic cops “who are on the road to collect revenues only”.
He says the cops are the most serious impediment to the order on roads, by collecting between Sh50 and Sh100 to allow drivers to overlap, overspeed and overload.
“Police officers are busy collecting revenues. They are not checking whether people are complying. That is why you find compliance levels are very low. We go for inspection once a year but we are supposed to go regularly,” Kimutai said.
“When I talk about this, I’m told to go and tell my people not to give the money. Who is in a better position? Is it the person who has the power to enforce the law, or is it the person who is giving him Sh50? It is very simple: if police became no-nonsense, we would not be having any problems on our roads, but they can’t. They are oiled by this money.”
The Michuki Rules reduced road accidents involving PSVs, and the highest cause for accidents is no longer the PSVs but boda bodas, private and commercial motorists.
But Matiang’i says his ministry has adopted a long-term approach to solve the problem, and this time round, things will be different.
INCREASED PRISON BUDGET
The CS said President Uhuru Kenyatta has instructed him and Macharia to file quarterly reports on how they are working on the changes in the public transport sector.
“This is not a one or two-month affair. That is why we have set up a multi-agency team jointly with the Transport ministry,” Matiang’i said.
“I told the PS in charge of correctional services to increase the prison budget, especially for this and next month, because they shall have more visitors. We cannot live this way. Lawlessness has spiralled out of control, and we have accepted as if that’s the way we are supposed to live.”
Matiang’i said anyone caught breaking the law will be arrested. During the crackdown, all drivers must have valid badges from their saccos and wear proper uniforms while on duty.
The vehicles must have valid insurance certificates and must be registered with a sacco. If a vehicle overloads, the excess passengers, the driver and the conductor will be arrested.
However, Kimutai says unless Matiang’i deals with corruption in the traffic department, the crackdown will be short-lived, and its gains will be clawed back shortly thereafter, just like previous ones.
Police have been predictably threatening to “strictly” enforce the Michuki Rules in the run-up to every festive season, with little or no success.
Kimutai says implementation of the Michuki Rules in 2004 succeeded because the minister was a no-nonsense man and police feared him. “But today police don’t fear anybody because there is no one like Michuki,” he said.
The Federation of Public Transport Operators has threatened to withdraw their services nationwide to protest the enforcement of the Michuki Rules, citing “unclear and discriminatory” guidelines.
The rules say that a person who owns, drives, or causes to be driven or has charge of a matatu in contravention to [the rules], shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding Sh600,000 or or a jail term not exceeding six months or both.
Chairman Edwin Mukambana says the law should only punish those culpable. Kimutai said the way forward is to empower the saccos to sack drivers and blacklist them, remove and suspend members.
The other bone of contention is the manner of enforcing the rules, including charging vehicle owners for traffic violations, changing PSV colours to white, and replacing speed governors, including the ones that are serviceable.
The federation is opposing the blue uniforms for all PSV drivers, including for those hired by companies.
Matiang’i has vowed to broaden the crackdown to target boda boda operators and bus termini touts.