Mon | Oct 2, 2023

Mark Wignall | Mr Ellington in the lions’ den

Published:Sunday | September 3, 2023 | 12:05 AM

From left: Ralston Smith, managing director of the Transport Authority; Owen Ellington, chairman of the Transport Authority; and Keith Blake, manager of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company, Half-Way Tree and Cross Roads; and Daryl Vaz, minister of science,
From left: Ralston Smith, managing director of the Transport Authority; Owen Ellington, chairman of the Transport Authority; and Keith Blake, manager of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company, Half-Way Tree and Cross Roads; and Daryl Vaz, minister of science, energy, telecommunication and transport, converse in front of a new E-Bus during a tour of the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre.

The offices of Stocks and Securities Ltd on Hope Road in St Andrew.
The offices of Stocks and Securities Ltd on Hope Road in St Andrew.

Chairman of the Transport Authority (TA), Owen Ellington, was commissioner of police from April 2010 to July 2014. Very few of us would be prepared to say that he was anything, but a good and decent man at the top.

I cannot find anything which he did as the top cop to label it as heroic, but, in saying that, I am being unfair to Mr. Ellington. It is not required as a pact with our existence that we be heroes. All that is hoped for is to add value to the small space we occupy. The heroes will come, either by being in the wrong place at the right time or, some will strike out to be heroes, either as minnows or as bigger fish.

The first time during Mr. Ellington’s tenure when I heard that he had a soft spot for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) I thought little of it because I saw nothing in the commissioner’s leadership to indicate that he harboured partisan tendencies. Leading the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) during the difficult days when the Dudus extradition matters were liberally spiced with social and political and security considerations (and palace intrigue) must have been a nightmare to the commissioner but, that book is not yet written.

Today and for many tomorrows Mr. Ellington is going to be tested like never before. The biggest, most stark difference between managing the JCF and the TA is that the JCF is, on paper, a cohesive unit of trained people. Those making up the core, the lifeblood of what gives the Transport Authority its reality is hundreds of operators in a rag tag race of undisciplined individualists each looking to be first at the loading ramp.

Mr. Ellington wants the coaster buses to use the designated building in Half Way Tree. As of last Thursday the coaster bus operators were not in favour of entering the TA building and lining up behind the much bigger yellow buses, with longer load times. But the scariest thing the coaster bus operators will encounter is discipline. And, they are all convinced that discipline slows down the cash register.


Mr. Ellington is in the lions’ den, but unlike the biblical narrative there is no divine power to clamp shut the jaws of the lions. Being far from a neophyte in understanding human systems and Jamaicans and how to manage them Mr. Ellington knows that 50 men like him, 50 parsons, 50 politicians and 50 university academics will together, never fix extortion in the transport system or stamp it out.

If Ellington believes that he can choke off the flow of the extortion dollar to the thugs managing it and collecting via Half Way Tree, all that will happen is the thugs will move the street management/collection to either earlier or later points in the transit. He knows that.

Outside of the government taxes collected via regular yearly fees on vehicles operating in the Transport Authority, the system is largely a part of the underground economy run and administered by the criminality at the top of the leadership in certain garrison communities, ably assisted by rogue cops. Ellington knows that.

With no barbs being hurled at Mr. Ellington, the reality is, any chairman of the TA is going to be a fixture in the system in similar fashion to a PhD school principal of a failing school. Which is my way of saying that I will understand if in another year or so Mr. Ellington moves closer to the chained gate of the lions’ den, seeking his exit.


About two decades ago I wrote about something quite personal. In a two-year period in a part of my life I met three women and all three of them had a rape story. I cannot say why they told me, but when I asked them individually I got the sense that they felt emotionally safe to tell me.

After that time I decided to ask delicate, leading questions among women and realised that it was like a plague, but not necessarily only in ghetto communities where people were densely packed together, but in some uptown communities where uncles and stepfathers were the culprits.

One uptown woman told me of a well-known media person who she said dated her as a teen and raped her on that first and only date. What I remembered about him is that he looked like the type of person a Jamaican would describe as ‘Can’t mash ants’.

The fathers whose very absence and the abysmal lack of basic humanity bring them to rape their daughters are real and not the figment of someone’s imagination. One woman told me that when she complained to her mother that her stepfather was molesting her in the nights, her mother told her to sleep in jeans. Some mother. Some solution.


The reader sent this: “It is now about seven months since the news broke of what happened.

“Except for Ms. Panton being charged, and she alleges she did not take Mr. Bolt’s money, but took others’ money, the place has gone silent.

“I can understand that the investigation is ongoing. But as I recall Mr. Bolt’s legal team was going to take legal action if he did not get his money back by a certain date. However, his legal team has been silent for months. Too silent.

“I wonder what has brought about that silence. The amount of money stolen from Mr. Bolt is substantial. Moreover, there has been nothing from the government as to proposed legislation regarding entities like SSL for future operations.

“For example, if you are going to be in a business like SSL’s you need to have adequate insurance against nefarious activity and loss of investor money.

“I was surprised and it is unconscionable that SSL was only required to have a negligible amount of insurance to cover losses considering the amount of investor money it had control over. That is one simple thing that could be done. How hard would it be to have a bill presented to Parliament reflecting such.

The SSL silence is deafening.”

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs analyst. Send feedback to and