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Can vehicle management be reformed in Sindh?

While the Sindh Excise and Taxation (E&T) department might still be struggling to figure out an efficient mode of yearly road tax collection, it must not be denied the credit for having taken an important step forward to improve its vehicle verification process. The department now has on its website an on-line vehicle verification facility that allows citizens to check the basic information and facts about any private or commercial vehicle.

Regrettably the Sindh Police which is responsible for fighting crime and militancy in the province and which is often the victim of vehicular lawlessness does not have the capability to readily access the credentials of thousands of suspected vehicles that move around with complete impunity. The police must perform the near impossible task of assembling at one place, personnel and laptops from at least four different departments to figure out complete details and background of a vehicle. This also explains why the police is often helpless and ineffective in the face of organised crime. One wonders why the Sindh Police has taken pains to keep itself away from the techniques and technologies that are a norm not just in western countries but also available to its counterparts in Islamabad and Punjab.

With only minor changes in its vehicle verification system, the Sindh Excise and Taxation department could provide immensely useful and powerful data services to police and public at the same time. It could begin by providing the vehicle verification facility on mobile phones, where users could retrieve a vehicle’s data by simply sending the vehicle registration number on a four digit short code SMS. Within a few seconds the user could receive an automated SMS response that includes the information currently displayed on the E&T website plus the owner’s name, the last four digits of owner’s CNIC and the vehicle chassis number. The information must clearly state if the vehicle was stolen or involved in a crime. The return SMS must also indicate the total outstanding amount of tax including the penalty for late payment. Provision can be made for Police to receive additional information such as owner’s complete CNIC number or the inspection status for commercial vehicles.

The next urgently needed reform in the Sindh vehicle management system is to enable all citizens to pay their yearly motor vehicle tax without going to any office or bank. This can be done in two steps. First by sending an SMS to obtain the vehicle details as described above. The SMS response will indicate the exact amount of tax (including penalty if any). Individuals can then pay the tax, sitting in their homes, by using any of the SMS based mobile money transfer schemes such as ‘Easy Paisa’, ‘Mobicash’, ‘UBL Omni’ or ‘Upaisa’. The E&T department could specify a phone number for tax payment which also sends a ‘Return SMS’ to confirm the receipt of payment.

Vehicles with fake foreign, non-standard, duplicate, AFR or personalized number plates are being increasingly used in crime, kidnapping and bomb attacks. The Sindh police and E&T department fail to recognize this link and refuse to apply techniques that could control or get rid of all unlawful vehicles. A major hurdle in this process is the Sindh government that is guilty of not having registered thousands of vehicles that are in its own use. Those that are registered have no tradition of paying the motor vehicle tax. These unlawful practices offer a huge opportunity to criminals who can unabashedly use fake, fancy or ‘look alike’ government number plates to gain access to secure places or indulge in criminal activities. The police is often too scared to check vehicles that appear to be official, foreign registered or display plaques like ‘MNA’, ‘Commissioner’ etc.

Not celebrated for its efficient governance, the government of Sindh could turn around its vehicle management system (and image) by taking four simple steps. Begin by registering all delinquent government and police vehicles and display their registration details on the E&T website like all other vehicles. Next enable police and citizens to access vehicle and tax related data directly through a short code SMS service. Thirdly the E&T department should introduce the facility for payment of motor vehicle tax through mobile phone money transfer schemes such as the ones described above. Finally the Sindh police must be nudged to institutionalize and undertake the much neglected vehicle enforcement program as an on-going exercise.

Published by Ex Tribune on 21 January 2014