Traffic officers under scrutiny for “lack of protocol”

A Samoan based in the United States has raised concerns over how local traffic officers are allegedly pulling over drivers without following proper protocols. Virginia Toalepai, on a recent business trip to Samoa, claims she was pulled over by a traffic officer last month because she was using her phone. 

“The traffic officer told me that I was using my phone, but I was not. The Bluetooth was connected to the car. When he pulled me over, he saw that the music was playing from my phone. I was not even on a call or using my phone.

“The officer pulled me over, asked for my license, I told him that I was leaving for the U.S. again the next day and I was only here for work purpose. He told me he was going to issue a ticket, I said fine, but then when I asked him for the ticket, he requested for a ride in my car to get the ticket from the Land Transport Authority (L.T.A.) office, which I agreed to. 

“On top of that, when we got to their office, after explaining to the person in charge what the issue was and that I did not have any cash on hand, I was told to withdraw money from the bank to pay my fine because I was leaving the next day and I wasn’t even offered the stated timeframe for someone to pay up their fine,” she said. 

Ms. Toalepai said this was not the first time because she was also pulled over by a traffic officer in one of her earlier trips for no reason. 

“When the traffic officer asked for my license, I told him I was from the U.S. and I don’t have a local license, he then advised me to get a local license and drive on Samoa’s road, which I understand. But this officer then asked me to give him food money, that is not right and it paints a bad picture of the system in Samoa.” 

L.T.A. Manager Procurement and Programming Division, Matthew Wendt, in response to questions from the Weekend Observer, said the matter has been investigated by the C.E.O. Galumalemana Ta’atialeoitiiti A. Tutuvanu-Schwalger, who is away overseas on duty travel. 

“Yes the complainant did visit L.T.A. and file a verbal complaint. The matter was thoroughly investigated by the traffic manager. The officer involved submitted a written report, and has proven every action performed with regards to this incident being done within his jurisdiction as an authorized traffic officer. 

“This incident had been witnessed by other senior personnel of the Traffic division, which they testify that the complainant did agree to pay the fine without being forced or demanded to do so,” the Traffic Division said.

The response from the L.T.A. said a period of 21 days is given to any offender to pay their fine and this applied to overseas travelers as well and that motorists in possession of a foreign driver’s license should apply for a temporary license. 

 “Yes officers have their tickets booklets with them and with this particular case the officer hopped on the complainant’s vehicle because she wanted to pay the fine straight away. 

“Also the complainant did not have a valid temporary drivers license to drive on our roads, she only has her overseas license.  Our road legislations obligates her to go through the temporary driver’s license applicant process, which the officer involved assisted her with when they arrived at the L.T.A. compound.”

In relation to the allegations by Ms. Toalepai that the officer asked for “food money”, the Traffic Division said she should present evidence of the allegation to ensure an investigation is conducted. 

“With her other allegations accusing officers of asking her for food money, we encourage her to come forward with sufficient evidence and to identify the officer whom she claims to have committed such actions. This is so that we can conduct a fair investigation, as it is in LTA’s best interest to deliver our services without bias and corrupt practices.”

They said if there is evidence of a breach of their core values and ethics, then the officer will go through the disciplinary process. The L.T.A. also encouraged members of the public to report incidences of alleged malpractice and to back it up with evidence.

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