Monday, January 18, 2010

Another Traffic Ticket

Kathy was not a happy camper when she called me on the phone: “Where are the papers for the truck?!!!”

“They should be in the glove compartment like they always are,” I replied. “Why?”

“Because I’m stopped here on the Route Circulaire near the Pô Road interchange at a police checkpoint and I can’t find the vehicle ownership, the technical safety certificate, and the proof of insurance papers! They’re going to give me a ticket for failing to produce those documents!”

My mind racing, I tried to think of what could have become of those papers. Then I remembered that I had recently put in new proof of insurance papers and taken the old ones out to put in the garbage. Maybe I’d taken all those documents out by mistake (I usually keep them all together inside the insurance papers) and burned them! I grabbed a group vehicle and drove back to our home as quickly as I could. But a quick check there revealed nothing.

Frantically, I went over the events of the past couple of days in my mind, searching for some occasion when I or someone else may have taken out those papers. Then I remembered that a bunch of us had gone on a trip to Pô on Monday. And one of our party had taken the truck to taken another person to the Ghanaian border. I quickly got on my cell phone and called the other driver.

“Did you run into a police stop on the road on Monday?” I asked her. “Did you at any time take the vehicle papers out of the glove compartment?”

“Why I believe I did!” she answered. I had to take the papers out to show to the border guards and must have forgotten to put them back. I bet they’re in my bag. Let me check...”

Sure enough, that’s where they were! I raced back to the Centre, grabbed the documents from her, and sped down the Route Circulaire to find Kathy.

Once there, a policeman waved me over and I showed him the papers, explaining what had happened. “I’m sorry,” he said, but you’ll have to pay a fine for failing to produce the documents when we stopped the truck.”

“How much is that?” I asked. “25,000 francs (about $50)” he answered. “You can pay it here and I’ll give you a receipt for it.” He showed me the receipt book. I guess he’d learned that expatriates always want receipts for such things to ensure that the money did not just get slipped into someone’s pocket without any record of payment. This, however, was the highest price for a traffic fine that I’ve ever run across here, so I was somewhat suspicious. But how could I put off paying it on the spot? Then I remembered how little money I had in my belt pack. It was worth a try... So I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have that much money on me. You’ll have to give me the ticket and I’ll pay it later.” I knew our Services Department agent could negotiate a much more reasonable fine at the police station itself.

“How much do you have?” asked the policeman. Not thinking about where he was going with this, I said, “About 15,000 francs.” “Okay,” he said, “give me that, then.” Now I was beginning to get really suspicious...

Stalling for time, I walked over to where Kathy was sitting in the truck and recounted what had happened. She suggested that I point out to the policeman that this was not our personal vehicle. It was registered in the name of SIL, the organization we work for in Burkina. So I walked back across the road to the policeman.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t pay anything here,” I began. “This vehicle belongs to the organization I work for and they have to pay the bill. If I pay it now, they will not reimburse me. That’s company policy.”

The policeman was not happy. “Well,” he said, “it’ll cost you 25,000 francs if you go to pay this downtown. We can cut that fine in half right here.” Oh, really, I thought? You just told me to give you 15,000 francs, and now you’re telling me it’s only 12,500 francs? There’s something funny going on here for sure!

“Well, that’s their problem,” I replied. “Please give me the ticket.” It was with some reluctance that he wrote out the ticket and gave it to me.

Back at the Centre, I gave it to our Services Department agent. The following day, he went downtown and after a lengthy process of negotiation was able to bring the price of the fine down to a more reasonable level. It turned out that the default price was indeed 25,000 francs as the policeman had said. But with persistence and the help of a relative who was also a policeman, our agent negotiated a final payment of only 6,000 francs, something I could never have achieved. Thank God for our national colleagues who know how things work here and are able to help us out like this!

No comments: