Sat | Apr 4, 2020

Wrecker racket - Operators accused of plundering pockets of poor, stealing revenue from Government

Published:Wednesday | February 5, 2020 | 12:24 AMJason Cross and Carl Gilchrist/Gleaner Writers

The Government has signalled its intention to amend legislation governing the seizure of motor vehicles by wrecker operators in a bid to stamp out rampant corruption which has been cited as pillaging the poor and creaming off state revenue.

The promised reform will bring onside hundreds of bus and taxi operators who often describe the actions of the police and Transport Authority officers as malicious.

Speaking at a Transport Authority-HOPE National Service Corps Drivers’ Training launch in St Andrew yesterday, Transport Minister Robert Montague argued that unscrupulous police were deliberately using latitude in interpreting the law to punish public operators as part of a scheme to shake them down for money.

The minister said that he would seek to close the discretionary loophole giving law-enforcement officers the option to either ticket motorists or seize their vehicles. If Montague has his way, motorists will have to be ticketed for breaches of traffic laws or other stipulations.

Montague was emphatic in his denunciation of graft as an accepted norm of the streets.

CULTURE OF INTIMIDATION

“The amount of corruption that is involved in the wrecking of people’s vehicle shows that they take up people’s vehicle and as you go around the corner, a man calls you and says if you pay money, we let the vehicle go.

“Sometimes they seize the vehicle and it doesn’t reach the pound. There is a lot of corruption in the seizure of poor people’s vehicle and we have to acknowledge it,” he said, revealing he had been a victim of the scam.

His call has received the backing of Egerton Newman, president of the Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services, who has often bristled at the treatment of cabbies and busmen by the police.

The lobbyist said that rogue cops had spawned a culture of intimidation and punishment, with many transport operators fearful to make reports because they would become targets.

“When you lodge a complaint, what they ask you to do is bring proof, but when you bring proof, you are in trouble, because tomorrow your vehicle might be seized forever and ever, or you might have your tyres punctured, especially in Spanish Town,” Newman told The Gleaner.

Montague’s declaration yesterday followed a script on which he has sought to anchor his campaign against corruption, as he took the same message to the opening of the Transport Authority’s Northern Regional office in Tower Isle, St Mary, last Wednesday.

He said he was operating as an emissary of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who he said had given him orders that “Government must facilitate and help, not hinder”.

“So let me issue a little warning to the wrecker man them who is charging all kind of fee that them mek – unnu better stop it. It has to stop; yuh not going to be a burden pon poor people back ... ,” said Montague.

“After them seize people vehicle, a money run pon the wrecker owner and the vehicle drop off and the Government nuh get the revenue. That is corruption and we have to stamp it out.”

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com