NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 22- They are not just parking ‘boys’ within Nairobi City trying to earn a living, but a powerful cartel, well networked within the system which in return has assured them of a conducive operating environment.
The parking gangs are evidently visible for all to notice.
They operate with courage, living no doubt that they are in charge of their specific jurisdiction, which is guarded jealously – against any ‘intruder’ who may derail them in ‘providing’ essential services to city motorists.
Their story is told in low tones since those they serve don’t care about the implications of encouraging their illegal activities.
– The return of parking gangs –
Did you know every street of Nairobi has its ‘owners’ and they are not necessarily the visible men and women in yellow overcoats?
When Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero introduced an e-payment system to pay parking fees, his intention was meant to seal loopholes that had led to what he then termed as “massive loss of resources” into the hands of corrupt county officials.
“The accountability and transparency achieved through automation of revenue collection has of course made some beneficiaries of the past manual system unhappy,” were the words of Governor Kidero on October 7, 2015.
As established by Capital FM News, the county continues to lose hundreds of thousands of shillings on a daily basis from parking fees, money whose final destination is the pockets of parking gangs and the county parking attendants who are all attached to the inspectorate department.
Usually, for many residents of Nairobi and specifically those with no specific parking slots, they are willing to part with more than the Sh300 parking fee to secure a parking space and be assured of the security of their vehicle.
“The parking boys are like a resident gang that has subdivided the city into small sections within which they operate day and night, in shifts,” Benson Munuhe, a city resident told Capital FM News.
“The ripple effect is that the Nairobi County Government loses revenue.”
Munuhe, who is also a diplomacy expert, accuses the County Inspectorate department of unwillingness to crack down on the cartel.
“They collude with these people,” he asserted.
“There is revenue leakage and they are the beneficiaries. The department has failed in their mandate… it has become a common phenomenon found in every street of the city.
It is their cardinal obligation to get rid of the parking boys and street families. To me, they operate like a mafia-like gang.”
– How parking cartels operate –
The gang has discovered a way to defraud the City Government of its money.
They usually approach a motorist who appears to be looking for parking space and offer to save them the hustle.
To establish just how it works, the Capital FM News investigative team approached one of the groups based along Market Street, just next to the City Market where they sought their help.
“Kuna space mingi…wewe chota tu tutakuonyesha mahali (there is a lot of space, just pay and we will show where),” one of the boys told the team.
He noticed the team wanted to make payments through the County M-PESA platform and he quickly intervened, “No, No, No, just give me the money,” he said.
He asked for the normal fee Sh300 but in cash.
“I will pay, don’t mind,” the ostensibly impatient parking boy said as he looks at oncoming vehicles, to see whether there will be ‘more business.’
All this time, a county parking attendant, who obviously had turned a blind eye on us, was around.
To clear the doubts, the parking boy assures that the money will reach her (the parking attendant) saying the vehicle stands no chance of being clamped.
And that is slowly becoming the norm for many public parking spaces within the city, including along the City Hall Avenue, where the office of the Governor is located.
One of their clients, explained to Capital FM News just how efficient their services are and why they opt to pay them (parking boys) instead of just using either the M-PESA or the e-payment platform that doesn’t provide any contact with the officials.
Janet Wambua (not her real name) parts with at least Sh400 five days a week and has no regrets about it.
She is aware of all other legal platforms developed for people to pay the parking fee, but she opts to ignore all that and instead work with the parking boys.
“I have zero guilt about it,” she told Capital FM News while swearing “not to expose my boys. They are good people, unlike a County Government that has failed to deliver any services to us.’
Wambua upon arrival to the city every morning, usually gives her main contact Sh400, where a hundred shillings goes to the parking boy while the rest will be handed over to the county officials manning the street.
But why glorify an illegality?
She says, “It is more convenient. The parking boys assure me of space for my vehicle and security on a daily basis. I just need to hand over the car to him and pay the amount we agreed upon.”
That is the case of another city resident who sought anonymity.
“At first, I was a little skeptical about it, but for one year I have not experienced anything bad unlike before,” another one said.
“There is a time I found my laptop had been stolen.. Since then, I decided to identify one of the parking boys who has all along provided security for my car.”
To tame any law-abiding citizen, the parking boys, as narrated by victims will either, “break into your car, steal the side mirrors or even deflate tyres.”
Wambua understands by paying the middlemen, she is denying the county revenue to offer services.
“What services?” she poses. “What we hear are only scandals. Let the poor also enjoy a share of the cake.”
– County official testimonial –
A county parking attendant admitted working with the parking boys to defraud the county revenue.
According to him, “there is no way I will spend the entire day with the clamping tool weighing on my shoulders and fail to make a single coin. After all, this money will be misused.”
His admission just paints a picture of a custodian of the public resources encouraging theft of the same.
But it is done systematically, he says, in order to avoid causing alarm at the headquarters.
“Most people park for a few hours and they leave. So at specific periods, genuine business happens before we repay ourselves,” he said.
Capital FM News has also established that the money is shared among a number of county officials.
On Tuesday, Capital FM News witnessed a county official dressed as a civilian collecting some money from a parking attendant.
The official had alighted from an inspectorate vehicle doing patrols and went straight to the parking attendant who granted our crew interview.
“They already know ‘our’ vehicles (those whose owners paid cash directly to them) so that they cannot clamp them,” he said.
A section of members of the public have since raised alarm over the trend and want the County Government to take charge of the city.
Reports have been made of people, more so women, who have been harassed by the gangs while demanding ‘security’ payments even after paying for the normal parking fee.
– Imminent county operation –
The Head of Parking at Nairobi County, Fredrick Ndunyu, told Capital FM News that the authorities were aware of the existence of the parking ‘boys’ but disputed claims that they were colluding with parking attendants.
Ndunyu said he had already written a formal complaint to the enforcement department of the county and an operation was set to be undertaken next week to remove them in the streets of Nairobi.
“Yes I am aware of the existence of the parking boys but they are not colluding with our officials …We have taken measures and we are in the process of removing them in liaison with our enforcement department. We have already written to them,” he asserted.
He said he had not noticed any significant change in revenue collections despite the revelations that some motorists were evading paying the daily parking fee.
“We are doing well since e-payment was launched simply because before a client would only wait for someone to attend to them. Right now our clients can serve themselves with or without our officials. There is a great improvement on our collections…Before we used to collect about Sh1.5 million but right now we collect Sh2 million or close to that on a daily basis,” he stated.
Ndunyu cautioned members of the public against avoiding paying the parking fee, saying the law will soon catch up with them.
“We have our investigations department that deals with those kinds of cases,” he warned.
“We have a code of conduct which governs our people…if it is proven to us beyond a reasonable doubt that they are colluding with our attendants, we will have to institute disciplinary measures.”
Though his appeal to the public is that they report such cases, most people are doing it willingly and unless the security of their vehicles is guaranteed and more parking space developed, the norm will continue.