Michuki Rules: Kenya back to square one

Matatu's lined up along Tom Mboya street. Photo/Monicah Mwangi
Matatu's lined up along Tom Mboya street. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

STRIKE THREAT

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.