MEHTARLAM: Some associations in eastern Laghman province illegally take thousands of afghanis from hundreds of rickshaws in the provincial capital, Pajhwok Afghan News has learnt.
Documents obtained by Pajhwok show 423 registered rickshaws ply Mehtarlam roads daily and each pays 100 Pakistani rupees to the associations every day.
Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) deputy head Mamondzai had sent a letter to municipalities of all 34 provinces ordering tax collections on urban services. The letter says: “The procedure of urban services tax approved by the council of ministers has been delivered for implementation.”
Rickshaw drivers in Mehtaram do not pay the five afghanis tax on a daily basis to the municipality due to their illegal extortion by the associations. The total amount of tax, if collected from all rickshaws, payable to the municipality reaches 300,000 afghanis on a monthly basis
The drivers say they would have no problem in payment of the municipality tax each time if the associations stopped taking the same.
The provincial administration confirmed rickshaw drivers were illegally charged by some associations and legal action would be taken if the drivers formally complained about the issue.
Pajhwok Afghan News interviewed rickshaw drivers, civil society activists, provincial council members and local officials of Laghman province about the illegal payment to associations.
Documents obtained by Pajhwok
Some documents Pajhwok Afghan News obtained from the Laghman transport department show rickshaw drivers initially paid money to associations voluntarily but now the associations force drivers to pay.
The documents also show two associations manage rickshaw activities in Mehtarlam.
According to Mehtarlam traffic department, 423 rickshaws are operating in Mehtarlam city.
Mehtarlam municipality says they lost hundreds of thousands afghanis revenue each month due to illegal payments to associations.
Laghman provincial council says the money taken by associations was an illegal practice that had faced rickshaw drivers with problems.
The amount of money collected by associations
Rickshaw drivers in Mehtarlam say associations collect money from them without giving any legal receipts because the money ends up in personal pockets.
Laljan, a resident of Mehtarlam city and a rickshaw driver for one and half a year, said people associated with some unions took money from them without any law involved.
He said he took passengers from their station five times a day on average and each time paid 20 Pakistani rupees to the union’s men.
“My rickshaw can carry seven people at once and the fare I charge each time is 140 rupees of which 60 rupees is fuel cost and my net earning amounts 60 rupees a trip after I pay 20 more to the association men,” he said.
Another rickshaw driver, Farhad, said if they refused to pay money to the unions’ people, they barred them from entering the bus stand and traffic police also did not allow them to stand on road.
“The money we pay is illegal because we do not receive any payment receipt and we have to use stations because traffic police do not allow us inside the city,” he said.
Provincial council believes strongmen, officials behind the illegal practice
Laghman provincial council says a number of powerful figures and officials have paved the way for the illegal payment by rickshaw drivers and the money collected goes to pockets of the powerful figures.
Atiqullah Abdurahimzai, the provincial council head, said both the charges and driving rickshaws in Mehtarlam city were illegal. He said the associations had been active for years in the city, taking money illegally from people, a practice he added prevented tax collection.
A provincial council member, Mohammad Zahir Hussainkhel, said that some figures who had connections with strongmen and officials extorted rickshaw drivers in the name of associations. The government did nothing so far against these powerful figures, he said.
Civil society activists
Civil society activists in Laghman see mafia circles behind the illegal collection of money and accuse the provincial administration of keeping mum over the issue.
Zabihullah Bahar, a civil society activist, told Pajhwok they had several times shared the issue with the governor’s house, but no action could be taken so far.
He said a large amount of municipality tax ended up in personal pockets due to the illegal charges.
Hanifullah Shahab, another civil society activist and Laghman representative in the Youth Parliament, said he had shared the problem with the transport ministry, but the issue remained unsolved due to involvement of powerful figures in the process.
“Some strongmen who have relations with officials are involved in this extortion, each strongman collects around 6,000 or 8,000 rupees and then the money is divided between figures associated with the process,” he said.
Mehtarlam city mayor Eng. Nazifullah Alokozay confirmed that some associations collected money from rickshaw drivers every day, discouraging payment of legal taxes.
“Rickshaw drivers do not pay taxes to municipality officials because associations take money from them”, he said, adding as a result of the practice the municipality lost hundreds of thousands of afghanis each month.
Ahmad Hussainullah Yar, Laghman transport director, refused to talk about the issue with Pajhwok, but he in a written form replied that associations could take some money from rickshaw drivers and the money should be paid willingly. He said the payment was part of efforts to regulate the associations.
But the money is taken from rickshaw drivers as mandatory.
Laghman traffic department head, Col. Abdul Samad Sadiqyar, said it was their responsibility to enforce the law on rickshaw drivers who violated traffic rules, but it illegal extortion from drivers was not relevant to transport department.
Laghman governor’s spokesman, Asadullah Dawlatzai, also said some associations illegally charged rickshaw drivers but no action could be taken against them because drivers had so far not complained in this regard. He said the governor’s house would take legal steps if rickshaw drivers formally complained about the extortion.
Response of officials of the associations
The associations in Mehtarlam manage rickshaw transport activities and take 20 Pakistani rupees from each rickshaw against each turn.
Esmat, who belongs to one such association that manages rickshaw turns and Samiullah Jan, head of the association, confirmed they took 20 rupees from each rickshaw against each turn.
He said the money was spent on salaries of eight workers of the association and some other expenses. However, he did not provide explanation under which law they charge the money.
He said 80 rickshaws were registered with them at the station near the governor’s house.
“Each rickshaw has five turns a day and the money paid by each rickshaw to the association amounts to 100 rupees a day and collectively it amounts to 240,000 rupees per month.”
Mohibullah, another worker of the association, told Pajhwok that they received 300 rupees in daily charges, which amounted to 9,000 rupees a month.
Samiullah Jan, head of the association, said he had eight workers and he paid 9,000 rupees as monthly salary to each. The association pays a total of 45,000 rupees to its workers in monthly salaries, while it is unclear where the rest of the money goes.
Experts: Legal companies should be created instead of associations
Economic and transport experts believe that legal companies should be created instead of associations for management of traffic activities in order to increase the government’s revenue and create transport facilities for passengers.
Eng. M. Agha Mubariz told Pajhwok that transport services in other countries were offered by legal companies and fare and taxes were also explained there.
He said legal companies in Afghanistan should be tasked with preventing illegal extortions. (Pajhwok)