Adrian Frater, News Editor
Western Bureau:The tag of corruption, placed on justices of the peace (JPs) who are collecting fees for the services they should be providing for free, is being linked to a wider scheme involving other public officials.
"It is all but impossible for a corrupt JP to get away with an act of deception without being in collusion with other public officials," a senior JP based in St James told The Sunday Gleaner, on condition of anonymity.
"For example, to get a driver's licence back door (illegally), it usually requires a corrupt JP, a corrupt doctor, a corrupt person at the examination depot and corrupt officials at the Island Revenue Department, all working in collusion."
The various corrupt officials work in tandem with a middleman who arranges the transaction, sometimes without the person getting the driver's licence having to leave his or her house.
"I gave the man my $20,000 and the form in the morning and him drop off my driver's licence at mi house that night," confessed one man who admitted to 'buying' his licence.
He said this form of transaction usually requires a middleman, who in most cases is a driving instructor.
"He (the diving instructor) usually have his JP to sign
the documents, a doctor to say you are medically fit, a motor vehicle examiner to go easy on the practical test (driving), and someone at the tax office to go easy on the reading," said the source.
"Interestingly, in most cases, the JP and the doctor don't even see the individual whose documents they sign."
Based on the regulations surrounding the issuing of a driver's licence, the applicant must reside in the parish - verified by a JP - being able to pass a written and practical driving test, and passed medically fit by a doctor.
National public relations officer for the Lay Magistrates Association of Jamaica, Melville Harris, is not surprised at news of the corrupt JPs.
"Over the years, numerous JPs have been decommissioned for abusing their office," said Harris.
"Based on my personal knowledge, I am aware of some cases dating back to the 1970s."
Harris noted that some of the JPs who have been accused of impropriety escape sanctions because those who make the accusations sometimes refuse to back up their claims when called upon.
"If the JP and the person who is named as the go-between both deny the claim, it basically becomes impossible to prove," noted Harris.
"In such a scenario, a JP who is guilty of abusing his office could well escape sanction."
Responding to claims that the parishes of St James, St Ann, St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew are the hotbeds of JPs' corruption, Harris said that based on his information the practice is equally rampant in the other parishes.
"Within recent times, several JPs have been removed from office because they have abused their power," said Harris.
"Those removed are not only from St James, St Ann, St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew, they are from all over Jamaica ... so it would appear to be a national problem."
While the driver's licence scam might be the biggest scheme in which corrupt JPs are involved, a former policeman told The Sunday Gleaner that some JPs are also involved in the pre-signing of search warrant and summons issued for various offences.
"Whenever we (the police) are going on certain duties, we usually have a JP sign numerous blank summonses, so when we go out all we have to do is to add the names of the persons to be served," the former lawman said.
"The correct practice is for a JP to be on location to sign the documents, but that rarely happens."
While acknowledging that making the JP system completely free of corruption might be very difficult, if not impossible, Harris said every effort is being made to ensure that the system is clean.
"I am sure every single custos in Jamaica wants to have a clean system, so I am sure no person will be allowed to continue to serve once they breach the trust placed in them," stated Harris. "It is noble duty that must be treated with the highest level of integrity."