Sun | Feb 19, 2017

Targeting drivers propagates corruption

Published:Monday | April 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM

MANY YEARS ago, the previous administration chose to free up the importation of second-hand motor vehicles from the East. The public transport system was dismal, the economy was increasing its downward spiral and the Consolidated Fund was in need of quick cash. Instead of focusing on vastly improving the public-transport system, the gains from taxing the motor-vehicle industry were chosen to generate easy revenue.

All that administration heard was 'ka-ching', as it anticipated the tax income from the licensing, fitness certificates, gas 'tax', import duties and general consumption tax on parts, repairs, servicing and insurance payments. Astoundingly, no one bothered to consider the inevitable backlash of congested roads (with the attendant loss of productive time and expensive fuel), exhaust pollution and (perhaps most germane), the excessive foreign exchange burden for road repair/expansion, fuel and the importation of replacement parts.

The numerous (often compounded) taxing of the driving public is punitive, exorbitant and unfair. Entirely illicit 'businesses', based on corruption, have sprung up because of the motor-vehicle industry with its associated high and pervasive taxation and blatant revenue-inspired ticketing of traffic offenders.

Milking motorists' pockets

This brings me to the revelation that this administration wants to generate $350 million from ticket fines on top of the $2 billion already owed by errant motorists. The use of traffic fines to bolster government income is not unique to Jamaica. In the United States, a March 11 article by Michael Snyder in the Business Insider speaks to the shift from, "police officers writing tickets to keep people safe and prevent citizens from breaking the traffic laws" to traffic tickets being "primarily viewed as a revenue-raising tool for state and local governments". To that end, in order to raise revenue, the state of Virginia handed out 6,996 traffic tickets in one weekend througha "federally funded ticketing blitz".

Many motorists are already augmenting the incomes of public servants who sell driver's licenses to anyone who wants to drive anything and fitness certificates for unsafe vehicles. Motorists are also 'contributing' to the lifestyles of rogue cops who register the excess speed of one motorist and show it to innocent drivers to shake them down or genuinely catch drivers breaking the traffic law but use the high fines and loss of points as leverage to extort them.

After this admission that revenue is a significant motive for issuing tickets, I wager that many will chose to give a cop (revenue agent) a 'lunch or drink money' to forget the whole thing rather than lose points and spend three to four times that amount on a ticket.

The real offenders

Motorbike riders and their passengers are still riding around without protective helmets. Minibus and route taxi drivers are still endangering us all by disobeying stop signs, traffic lights and lane markings. They still overtake endless lines of traffic, drive on the soft shoulders and sidewalks and form new lanes in the middle of our roads all across the island. Ignorant and lethal road hogs still zigzag across highway lanes and tailgate constantly. Ticket those first; send them to 'traffic school', then get the $2 billion already owed.

In a country where carpooling is difficult and public transport is arduous and sometimes hazardous, where car prices, fuel, upkeep, insurance and cost of road use are astronomical - driving a motor vehicle should not be treated as self-indulgence. Yet, successive administrations have preyed upon motorists as a source of ready income (a cash cow). Targeting drivers to generate revenue will send the wrong message and end up propagating corruption.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Feedback may sent to garthrattray@gmail.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.