Fear and ignorance trample the rights of bus drivers [Archives:2007/1018/Reportage]

January 22 2007

By:Nisreen Shadad
Yemen Times Staff
and Sadam Al-Ashmori
For Yemen Times

The illegal extortions bus drivers are made to pay makes their lives difficult. They claim traffic officers threaten to penalize them, even when they haven't violated any traffic rule, which invariably leads to them paying some money as a bribe to such officers.

Representatives of the administrative union body, which is supposed to look after and help bus drivers, also indulge in extortion. However, when the Yemen Times presented the problem of such extortion to traffic officer Yahya Al-Falahi in the presence of some bus drivers, they denied the existence of such a practice. While a few reiterated it, the majority remained silent.

Regarding any relationship between police and the union, “There's no relationship between us because the administration is an official body, whereas the union is civil service. However, due to personal relationships, union officers request assistance from police because they're more powerful,” an anonymous traffic officer.

Another police officer noted that it's impossible to accuse anyone who isn't violating the rule; however, if a rule is broken, it's the officer's duty to penalize.

“Representatives give us the names of violators who refused to pay the fees and consequently, we put them in prison,” explained Al-Falahi, a traffic officer at the 26th of September office.

However, Abdul Aziz Al-Sanabani, head of the Shumaila traffic office, said, “We have a practical relationship with the representatives and the traffic officers union because they all work together to apply the rules and control violators. If a bus driver refuses to follow the standard rules, we only convince him not to violate them and most listen to us. However, we don't have the right to put anyone in prison for violating the standard rules.”

Bus drivers further complain about traffic police illegally using the indictment bill. If they refuse to give the officer what he wants, he'll penalize them. “Bus drivers know traffic officers at several intersections who will let us break the law once we bribe them,” one bus driver admitted.

Though many traffic police confirmed that they don't transgress in this manner, bus drivers complain vehemently about such extortion and their incapacity to defend their rights and prove the officers' guilt. One bus driver said that because of the critical situation traffic police make him live under, his life's dream is to kill at least one of them.

Regarding ways bus drivers can protect themselves from such extortion, one police officer suggested, “Bus drivers can go to police administration to follow up their cases and prove their innocence, which is what we call quittance. If many bus drivers went there, surely it would be a good result.”

Al-Sanabani added, “Bus drivers' innocence depends upon our knowledge of their characteristics.” However, bus driver Saleh Ahmed says such a way never will prove their innocence.

Union representatives, who are mandated by the administrative body and elected by bus drivers, also put a host in bus drivers' nests rather than acquainting them of their rights and defending them against those going beyond the limits imposed by law.

Regarding such representatives' duties, Hasan Al-Ahdal, an alternative representative for Ahmed Haidar, says, “I'm in charge of collecting money for cleaning the bus stand and helping bus drivers in an accident.”

An unofficial representative who requested not to be identified, replied, “My duty is to collect money and send it to the administrative body. It's not our business to know where it goes or in favor of whom.” Bus drivers at Beit Baws stand added, “The union compensates us in an accident, giving us 30 percent of the repair cost.”

Bus drivers must pay two types of fees: official and unofficial. Official fees vary from one stand to another according to the size of the bus. For example, at each bus stand at Taiz intersection, bus drivers pay YR 50 daily. Since there are two stands, bus drivers must pay YR 100.

Drivers must pay YR 100 at each of Shumaila's six stands for a total of YR 600. Added to this are fees for the stopping place (YR 20), fees to join the same street (YR 10,000 ($50 )and fees to make a local trip (YR 1,200) and an international trip (YR 10,000.

Unofficial fees are those paid without a receipt and go to support such things like elections and Palestine. Moreover, bus drivers at several stands don't get receipts for official fees, including buses at Taiz intersection, from Taiz intersection to the university and from Taiz intersection to Hadda Street.

Regarding unofficial fees, one anonymous official representative responded, “We collect extra money only when we have official instructions, which doesn't happen frequently, but no official receipt is given to bus drivers in return.”

Some representatives consider their salary nothing in view of their job. “Bus drivers must pay YR 40 and they receive a receipt in return. Nevertheless, I take YR 10 more from each driver daily as a gift [described as a salary], but this is nothing compared to my hard job. I stand in the sun for hours organizing buses and calling passengers and in the end, I receive only YR 15,000 monthly,” the official representative lamented.

Al-Hasabah Street bus driver Hameed Daghish complains, “The fees are too much and on certain occasions, it becomes a chance to take more. We used to pay only YR 20 to stand representatives, when suddenly, fees for cleanliness and the local council emerged. Besides that, they ask us to pay an extra YR 150 to support Palestine.”

Bus driver Mohammed Yahya Me'sar says, “We pay YR 10 at the bus stand and YR 50 to the representative of the administrative union body. Sometimes the fees are increasing – fees for cleanliness, the local council and so on.”

However, Me'sar and others have no idea to whom such unofficial fees go. “I hope to learn where it goes because it's such a huge amount of money! What an irony this is – we feed them instead of them feeding us,” observed bus driver Mahdi Al-Matari.

Regarding bus drivers who refuse to pay such fees, Daghish says, “When bus drivers refuse to pay, representatives give their names to the traffic police to detain their buses and thereby force them to pay. We have no choice but to pay because detaining our buses and putting us in prison requires us to pay thousands in penalties.”

Bus drivers affirmed that they must stand together to rise up against such oppression because they feel they have no way to improve their income. They work the entire day to earn money while others simply tread on their rights and take their hard-earned money. “You can imagine that I rent a bus for YR 3,000 daily, spend YR 1,000 for petrol and other spending amounting to YR 1,000. However, after working from morning until 11 p.m., my daily income is less than YR 6,000, so what can I do with the remaining YR 1,000?” Al-Matari explains.

As he describes, such corruption goes back to their weakness. “Because we were weak from the very beginning, collecting money from us has become a habit and it's very difficult to get rid of it now. We must work together because individual effort can't face this menace.”

Khalid Al-Anisi, a lawyer and executive director of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, also known as HOOD, says, “Laws and legislation organize everything, yet we need control and observation. For example, there's a law preventing a traffic officer from riding in a violator's taxi, bus or car with the intention of taking him to the administrative body. This rule protects bus drivers because sitting together in the same vehicle gives many traffic officers a chance to exploit violators. Added to that, they might fight and such a fight most probably would end with committing a murder.”

He continued, “Once, while returning to Sana'a from Al-Dhale', a traffic officer stopped me because I needed to renew my car's deed of title. He asked to ride with me to the administrative body. On the way, he began haggling with me about paying him something in return for letting me go. I refused and told him that he broke the rule as well as I did because he rode in my car. Therefore, he left me!”

According to Al-Anisi, “In my viewpoint, the problem is that bus drivers still are unaware of their rights. Generally speaking, people are negative about serious problems that have disturbed them for so long and they aren't ready to spend the time, effort or money to pay the tax of citizenship to stand against the arbitrary.”

He went on, “Even in traffic, the main focus is only on the drivers' duties; thus, as a result, bus drivers easily can be exploited and traffic officers have the opportunity to exceed their bounds. What makes bus drivers' condition weak is traffic officers' ability to penalize, even if bus drivers don't break any traffic rules. Added to this is bus drivers' difficulty in proving the opposite.

“Moreover, if bus drivers stand against traffic officers, they may lose more money and their rented buses may be detained. Therefore, they prefer the easier way, which is paying money. As a lawyer, I prefer to pay the commonwealth rather than an individual because paying money without a receipt causes others to tread upon our rights,” Al-Anisi concluded.

A lawsuit for accountability

Yahya Al-Ziyadi, a Shumaila district representative for 15 years, says, “We – both the previous representatives and bus drivers – selected the Shumaila district union to preserve our rights and support us when we're in need. However, the union took a lot of money illegally without providing any receipts. We complained about them to police, but our complaints fell on deaf ears.

“Prosecution commanded returning the complaint reports to us six times, but they didn't. Hundreds of bus drivers and representatives then asked us to bring suit against them, calling into question the union's financial accountability,” Al-Ziyadi explained.

“Although the union administration for buses to Bab Al-Yemen/Hizyaz and 13 Shumaila district/7 July/Darsalm has an observing union called a public union selected from drivers and bus owners to revise activities and accounts for 2001-2004, no one observed or was aware of the accounts.

“Therefore, we authorized some among them to make us aware of where the money is going. After many clashes took place, we eventually were informed about only the 2004 accounts and what we found was an illegal and random layout with no receipts or a delivery note from the bank, which we had signed, but it wasn't documented.

“When informing us about the 2005 accounts, we found them worse than the previous ones, so we asked to bring in two accountants to review the accounts – we would select one and they would select the other. However, they refused, so we sued them.

He continued, “However S'ad Shajerah denied this and claimed that if the bus drivers and bus owners agreed to change us, then surely we would be changed. He said drivers have the right to change, so if we are as they claimed, why are we still their union?

“If I take anyone's right, I would say it in front of all to come and I would take it,” he added.

This matter has been in court for years and still no verdict has been reached. “For a year, we've been going to court to receive a rebuttal to our suit, but we've had no response,” Al-Ziyadi concluded.

Whether they join the union or not, Shumaila bus drivers must pay YR 120 for stand services. Some bus stands have unions while others don't. Some bus drivers are content about the union's work, but most are not. Bus drivers have the option to join the union or not. For example, the route from Shumaila to Bab Al-Yemen has a union whereas the route from Shumaila to Al-Siteen/University doesn't. Many bus drivers join the Shumaila/Bab Al-Yemen union, but many don't.

There are four stands and nine representatives for Bab Al-Yemen stand; thus, bus drivers must pay Bab Al-Yemen stand YR 40, YR 30 at Shumaila stand, YR 30 at Hizyaz stand and YR 30 at Darsalm stand – all without a receipt. Additionally, union members must pay YR 80 for further services such as opening new systematic routes and services in case of accident.

An optional approximately YR 1,500 annual contribution supports a bus driver if he's sick or imprisoned and the union will pay not less than YR 500.

Added to this, representatives of Al-Zindani Building stand take YR 20 from each bus driver without a receipt.

In an effort to obtain more information regarding in whose favor such fees go, the Yemen Times attempted to interact with the local council, trying to set up an appointment for months, but in vain.