THE LAST-MINUTE rush and resultant chaos surrounding the end of the six-month traffic-ticket amnesty was not unexpected. Maybe we are affected by the scepticism of the age in which we live. But more precisely, this is 50-year-old Jamaica, where barely a day goes by without some dramatic event occurring to arouse public indignation. There are many issues: crime and violence, rotting garbage, poor roads, lack of street lights, neglect of minors in state care, economic distress.
It was quite an ambitious target to get errant motorists to pay up more than $2 billion worth of traffic fines, which they had chalked up and ignored prior to September 2010. Former National Security Minister Dwight Nelson, who introduced the amnesty legislation in the Senate, said it became necessary because the old system was fraught with deficiencies, which posed problems for the new online traffic-ticketing system.
Simply put, if a motorist failed to pay a traffic ticket to the tax authorities within 21 days after being ticketed, he would then have to proceed to court.
Nelson said, "As a consequence, it is likely that any drive to collect on these tickets in that kind of scenario would overwhelm the already severely overburdened court system and could perhaps render the effort ineffectual."
Simply put, the court system, already clogged with scores of ageing cases, could not effectively deal with the deluge.
That really is the background to this traffic-ticket amnesty, which allowed errant motorists to pay their outstanding fines without threat of prosecution and fear of getting demerit points. In the first four months of the amnesty, only $5.5 million was collected - barely a dent in the reported traffic-ticket arrears.
Let us not ignore the fact that these motorists who violate the law and ignore their traffic tickets are simply lawless. Some have multiple unpaid tickets spread over many years. For such persons, obeying the law is not in their nature, and it is likely that even after the December 31 deadline, they will remain delinquent. And while the amnesty will provide quick cash for the Treasury, the sad fact is that such an amnesty will not make these delinquent motorists into honest, law-abiding citizens.
Having said all of that, the reported discrepancies, particularly in relation to tickets paid through the courts, cast an eerie shadow over the system's integrity and help to reinforce the view that if the Government is involved, it is bound to have glitches. The declaration by the plain-speaking Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis about challenges occurring even in Heaven does not help to engender great faith in the system of ascertaining what payments were in fact made.
As expected, claims of double ticketing or incorrect ticketing have triggered calls for the amnesty to be extended.
We submit that the amnesty should not be extended. Six months was enough time for delinquent motorists to get their house in order.
Come January 1, the harsh penalties, which could include hefty fines and imprisonment and suspension of driving privileges, should be swiftly implemented. We suggest that the tough stance should include naming and shaming the worst traffic offenders.
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