In June 2016, the son of the chief justice of Sindh was abducted by kidnappers who used a vehicle with a fake government number plate. It is an established fact that most criminals rely on stolen vehicles with fake number plates to commit crimes.
An in-depth study of government vehicles spread over four years, conducted by citizens Nazim Haji and Naeem Sadiq, reveals some astonishing facts. It shows that 17 percent of all government vehicles – approximately 3,700 cars – plying on the roads are unregistered vehicles. They are neither included in the excise and taxation (E&T) department’s computer records nor reflected on the E&T website. This fact was further confirmed through vehicle records obtained from E&T under the RTI law.
The study further revealed that 13 percent of government vehicles had a discrepancy between the actual vehicle specifications and those mentioned in the E&T records – for example, a Toyota Corolla has been listed as a Suzuki Alto or vice versa. Approximately 2,800 government vehicles suffer from such data-related errors. This is largely because officials make multiple sets of official number plates and use them on their private cars.
The study revealed that there were an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 private cars in Sindh that have adopted a second identity as they resemble government cars. This fraudulent act is committed when a privately registered car uses a green number plate. The impersonation allows such vehicles to access prohibited places, break traffic rules and not be checked by the police.
There are another 100,000 cars in the province that evade registration – and, thereby, taxes – by either using a foreign number plate, an AFR or a personalised number plate. This offence is largely committed by those who are in positions of power, influence or simply top-of-the-line crooks. Totally subservient to the personal wishes of the politicians, the Sindh police are much too scared to check any of these fraudulent vehicles as they fear getting into trouble with powerful law-breakers.
How did Sindh manage to become a haven for lawless vehicles? It is now possible for an individual to get away with not registering a vehicle or paying the annual motor vehicle tax. The police will also not check an individual for fraudulently using a government, police, AFR, personalised, fake or foreign number plate. This is an ideal situation that offers endless opportunities for crime and militancy.
A presentation was recently made to the Sindh home secretary and secretary of the E&T department to explain the state of vehicular lawlessness and suggest a suitable way forward. These reforms must begin by accounting for and formally registering all government and police vehicles and correcting the vehicle database held by the E&T department. An identical number plate system that does not differentiate among a government, police or private vehicle should be introduced. This will put an end to the concept of privileged vehicles and the need to impersonate them.
While vehicle registration and tax collection is a provincial subject, there is a need to create a common national database of all vehicles along with a country-wide standardisation of the size, colour and font of number plates. With the police getting hand-held tablets, a policeman – regardless of where he is in Pakistan – should be instantaneously able to check the complete data of any vehicle belonging to any province.
No vehicle must be released from a showroom or port if it has not been registered and provided an officially supplied number plate. Car registration must involve the original CNIC and biometric verification on the pattern of mobile phone SIMs. Motor registration and the subsequent yearly tax should be payable using any mobile phone money transfer system. This will eliminate inefficiency and the potential opportunities for corruption.
The implementation of these suggestions is possible only if the police receives adequate training, authority and independence to check any vehicle and apply the necessary penalties without any fear or favour. There is something wrong with a state engaged in fighting a war against terror but is unwilling to control what could be easily detected by a half-blind person from half a mile.
The writer is a management systems
consultant and a freelance writer on social issues. Email: naeemsadiqgmail.com