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Editorial | What’s so hard about fixing traffic ticket system?

Published:Monday | May 27, 2019 | 12:00 AM

In the last eight years, there have been two traffic-ticket amnesties in Jamaica, conducted in three tranches.

The last of these ran from November 27, 2017, to January 13, 2018, and covered traffic tickets issued between September 2010 and October 31, 2017, which motorists had neither paid nor appeared in court to challenge. This, essentially, was an extension of a 45-day amnesty that had ended on October 31, 2017.

Persons who took up the offer and paid the fines were freed of the possibility of arrest, penalties or other criminal liabilities that might have attended their failure to pay within the stipulated period. During that amnesty, the authorities collected nearly J$700 million and processed close to 300,000 tickets.

Previously, in 2012, the authorities offered a similar amnesty for traffic tickets issued before 2010. That one was for six months, to the end of December 2012. During that period, the Government processed tens of thousands of overdue ticket and collected J$340 million, 60 per cent of it on the final day.

Those amnesties had multiple objectives. One was to provide an avenue to collect some of the money outstanding in traffic fines, which had been placed at a high of J$5 billion, at the time of the 2012 amnesty, and J$2.84 billion during the last one. Second, it was an opportunity for the Government to draw a line under a dysfunctional traffic arrangement and fix its problems.

Going forward, therefore, everything should be in good order. Tickets issued by traffic cops should match those on the central database and offset by any payments made by motorists to Tax Administration Jamaica. It seems, however, that despite working on this matter for the better part of eight years, the authorities are still to get their house in order. They are now scrambling to have the systems in good working order ahead of the long-delayed promulgation of the new Road Traffic Act, under which fines, and other penalties, for traffic offences will be vastly increased.

Recently, at a forum hosted by this newspaper, officials at the national security ministry conceded that their Traffic Ticket Management System isn’t appropriately synchronised across agencies and that it is often not fed with correct information.

When the police write traffic tickets, the information is supposed to be inputted into the database, thus sharing the information with the revenue agencies, allowing them to collect the requisite fines. There are, however, significant gaps.

According to Joan Wynter, the director of projects at the national security ministry, it is not unusual for tickets to be issued and the dates for their payment passed without the information being accessible to the revenue authorities.

Absence of information

In some cases, motorists go to pay within the stipulated period but find that their tickets are not on the system. Even with the absence of the information, the revenue agency may collect the money and make the entry themselves. Sometimes, however, there may be transposing errors on the part of revenue officials or conflicting entries from other sources that create problems.

We appreciate the effort of the ministry, which has hired a consultant to deal with the issue, to clean up the system. However, that is what we expected eight years ago and again in 2018 after the latest amnesty. It is high time that the ministry, the police and Tax Administration Jamaica get their act together.

Or is it their plan to declare a traffic-ticket amnesty every few years, with a promise that the system is being fixed? It can’t be beyond the Government to fix something beside the fiscal accounts.