ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 40

RMV: Graft on top gear

Deceit, Bribery and Corruption -the driving licence scam

The testing of driving skills and issuing of driving licences have become a big scam perpetrated by some corrupt employees of the Department of Motor Traffic, with the connivance of many a mushrooming driving school.

The scene outside the Motor Traffic Department

Have you wondered how so many people drive recklessly without any thought for basic road rules? Many drivers do pass the driving test without the ability to drive and not knowing even the basic road rules thanks to the corrupt system in place.

Here are some examples of how the system works: A father, who felt he was not the correct person to teach driving to his daughter, decided the task should be entrusted to a professional in the field. He contacted a so-called reputed driving school headed by a former chief driving instructor of a state sector organization. On being put through the general sales pitch about the school’s thorough scientific teaching methods and its 100% success rate, the father readily paid the required fees. The fees charged range from Rs.12,500 upwards for a basic motor car driving licence. It also includes bribes to corrupt departmental employees.

He soon learned that the driving school was a miracle school. No sooner had his daughter taken her seventh lesson she was taken for her driving test.

Each lesson had been less than half an hour. This is despite the school at the outset promising 15 lessons. The daughter herself had complained to her parents before going for the test that she could hardly reverse and was not capable of the intricacies of “clutch balancing” while starting from steep inclines.

To the surprise of the entire family the girl came home smiling and announced she had passed her driving test. Her test was limited to driving not more 100 metres on the Werahera-Piliyandala Road.

Armed with the temporary driving permit she had been issued pending the issuance of the permanent driving licence, the father asked his daughter to drive them to the nearby super market. To their horror they realised the girl could hardly drive.

The driving instructor’s answer to their predicament was that she needed to gain experience by driving the home vehicle!
Our investigations found that this was not an isolated incident, but an experience a majority of those who obtain driving licences in this country are put through.

Little wonder that there are so many incomponent drivers on our roads, who are probably the prime cause of so many fatal accidents.

The son of a senior lawyer who was quite a competent driver having driven vehicles from a very young age, had some interesting encounters at the Werahera Driver Testing Division of the Department of Motor Traffic.

When he sat for the department’s written test for drivers, he found to his surprise, someone had already marked the answers on the multiple choice question paper with a blunt pencil or the back of a pen.

Since the young man had not gone through a driving school, at the driving test the examiner had demanded Rs. 500/-. However the boy had stood his ground and refused to make payment. He suggested that if the examiner had wanted to fail him despite his ability to drive he can do as he pleased.

The straight talking teenager had, however been passed. Recently a woman mercantile employee who had gone for the driving test had been told by her instructor that she needed to pay a bribe of Rs.1,500/- to the examiner if she wanted to pass the test.

Having paid the cash requested to the instructor, she got into the driving seat, while the examiner sat next to her in the front passenger seat. Meanwhile the instructor who was seated at the back immediately passed the money into the left hand of the examiner in her presence!

She too passed the very short test immediately. A senior examiner who is disgusted with the whole corrupt system said that he individually tried to correct wrongs by failing those applicants who could not drive. He soon found himself shunned by everyone.
What was most shocking according to this official is that hardly any of the applicants are put through a proper medical test or even a simple eye sight test.

With each application, ‘The Sunday Times’ however learned a bogus medical certificate is submitted by the driving schools with the connivance of corrupt departmental employees without the knowledge of the applicants.

Leaving aside the corruption aspect, the official said, some of the driving instructors teaching in these schools were themselves quite incompetent.

An example he cited was the case of a former police department driving instructor, who though having written books on driving, was totally incompetent to teach anyone.

The examiner concerned was not surprised that some applicants who had sat the written test had found answers marked on the question papers. He said there were only three different sets of test papers that were being rotated on a daily basis.

A senior official of the Motor Traffic Department speaking on condition of anonymity said there are some 450 driving schools registered with the department.

Of those 275 are classified as grade ‘A’ schools, while the balance is categorized as grade ‘B’. The basic requirement for a ‘B’ Grade school is that it should have an office, a qualified instructor, road sign boards, a small vehicle, a motorcycle and a list of fees prominently displayed.

In the case of an ‘A’ grade schools the additional requirements are that they should have three instructors, a heavy vehicle and display the main components of a vehicle.

The official claimed that it was unfair to lay the entire blame on the department He claimed the biggest problem faced by the department was the lack of complaints against these schools. The only complaints lodged with them he said, were against examiners who found fault with applicants for licences and failed these individuals.

“We can’t possibly monitor all these schools with the limited resources at our disposal. Every two years the schools are examined by us as to their basic requirements. We do not check their standards. The problem is aggravated due to driving schools opening branches without any authorization”, he claimed.

Transport experts, however charged that there was a corrupt mafia within the department who stood in the way of reforms. For any reform to be successful they said, the authorities would have to break up the mafia within the department first.

The present system was so lucrative to corrupt employees that it was the second choice of government servants seeking transfers, after the Customs Department.

Commissioner General of Motor Traffic B. Wijayaratne, however assured that the process would be completely overhauled by June when the new computerized system of issuing licences begins.

He said it would remove the driving schools from the application process altogether, as henceforth each applicant would personally call over, submit all relevant details. Even for the driving test, only the applicant would be allowed in he said. Wijeratne said the written test would be computer based.

According to the Commissioner, the contract for the implementation of this new scheme scheduled to commence next month, had now been awarded to Metropolitan Agencies and a South African partner. The Motor Traffic Act he said was being amended to facilitate the new reforms. Mr. Wijayaratne said he would take stern action against corrupt examiners.

Transport experts who spoke on condition of anonymity said they doubted the success of the scheme and predicted that it was likely to go the same way as many past attempts at reforms.

Head of the Transport and Logistic Management Department of the University of Moratuwa, Prof Amal Kumarage, said two years ago he along with a group of other transport experts as members of a committee appointed by the then Secretary of the Transport Ministry drew up a detailed Road Safety Action Programme (RSAP), but in typical Sri Lankan fashion all their recommendations were probably lying somewhere in a Ministry shelf gathering dust.

He said the recommendations included preparation of standards for driving schools, preparation of driver/rider training manuals in all three languages, increase the cadre of Examiners of Motor Vehicles, introduction of computer aided driver testing at DMT and District Secretariats, improving standards for medical testing of drivers/riders, and even maintenance of accident records in a central data bank, along with such information as to who trained a driver and who passed him.

Prof. Kumarage said that at the time he was heading the Transport Commission he begun compiling an accident data base. He pointed out that in one instance due to a lack of maintenance and updating of such records, a driver responsible for causing six fatal accidents had gone undetected. His past came to light only after the sixth fatal accident.

Unfortunately, he said his successors had done away with the maintaining of such records. It is intriguing to note that placed all over the department walls are boards advising the public not to give bribes to get their work done.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.