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EDITORIAL - Overhaul Traffic Authority

Published:Saturday | May 12, 2012 | 12:00 AM

It is simply unbelievable that we are still talking about transforming the Island Traffic Authority (ITA) in 2012. Everyone acknowledges that the system of issuing licences and testing motor vehicles to ensure fitness and roadworthiness is flawed and open to corruption and exploitation.

Millions of dollars are estimated to be diverted from the public purse each year from corruption at agencies such as the ITA.

For this reason, the Authority was targeted for attention as part of the Public Sector Modernisation Project within the transport ministry. The country was promised that the Authority would have been transformed into an independent statutory organisation and that some areas of its operations would have been privatised.

Progress has been agonisingly slow on this initiative. Majority Senator Imani Duncan-Price reopened the debate on the administration of the Road Traffic Act and general compliance with standards of safety when she tabled a motion in the Senate in February.

She called for a re-examination of the driver's licence system. Of particular concern to the senator was "the widespread doubt concerning the integrity of the system by which driver's licences are issued". In fact, the first-time senator was calling attention to the corruption that has become so deeply entrenched in a system that facilitates the issuing of licences to people who are not qualified.

One of the mandates of the ITA is to ensure a high standard of safety on the roads. It has generally failed in that duty, and traffic enforcement is greatly threatened by corruption. The result is that many unfit vehicles litter the roads, illiterates who possess licences are unable to interpret the road code, and they become a menace, contributing to the traffic carnage.

Dangerous proposition

Duncan-Price is, however, treading on dangerous ground when she calls for additional powers to be conferred on the ITA. She wants the Authority to be able to revoke the licences of drivers who have accumulated a significant number of demerit points. The National Road Safety Council is apparently of the same mind.

The impact of corruption at the ITA was clearly illustrated by the auditor general in 2011 when she reported 65 cases of centenarians who were granted licences for the "first time", and more than 8,000 people over 65 who were first-time holders of licences, as well as 1,767 applicants under age 17 who were issued driver's licences for the financial year ended March 2010.

It is puzzling that after such a damning report, no initiatives, to our knowledge, were introduced to create a deterrent to corrupt practices or to educate the community on the dangers of endorsing corruption through their own conduct and how they can play a part in ensuring clean governance at ITA and like agencies.

While people who rack up demerit points should be dealt with, we do not see how the very Authority that has been tarnished for providing licences to unqualified persons could now be given additional power to assume administrative responsibility for the suspension of driver's licences. We suggest that a better, more reliable way has to be found.

The road to safety on our thoroughfares demands greater examination of the Traffic Bill to place a high priority on eradicating corruption within the ITA and engaging the country in the fight to combat corruption.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.