Regulate, not reject
Sheldon Williams, Staff Reporter
David McKay, board member and a director at the Motor Repairers Association of Jamaica (MRAJ), has suggested importation of damaged vehicles into the island be regulated, rather than banned.
In a Gleaner article on Monday, May 12, it was reported that Commissioner of Customs, Major Richard Reece, is taking a no-nonsense approach to the matter. This was in reaction to an increase in the number of damaged vehicles being imported. Since 2012, approximately 25 vehicles have been seized.
Section 16 of the Government's Motor Vehicle Policy states that "The importation of motor vehicles that are considered to be in a damaged or salvaged state is prohibited, irrespective of the extent of structural damage, whether the damage was caused through flooding or any other natural disaster and whether the damage occurred in transit or not, once the repairs are not done prior to importation."
"I agree with him, but instead of stopping it totally, it needs to be regulated to ensure safety," McKay said. Therefore, while he shares Reece's concerns about deceitful vehicle importers who continue to pursue illegitimate ways to import damaged vehicles, McKay said, if done properly, monitored regulations would be a more prudent approach.
BAN IMPOSED IN '08
The ban on the importation of damaged vehicles was first imposed in 2008 under Karl Samuda, who was then minister of industry, investment and commerce. Although there had been some thought about removing the ban in 2011, when Dr Christopher Tufton had succeeded Samuda, it has remained in place. This was reaffirmed by the Trade Board in 2013.
McKay said the MRAJ is lobbying the Government to make importation of damaged vehicles exclusive to certified members of the organisation. "We are trying to convince the Government to have authorised MRAJ members who are qualified technicians to bring down cars that can be repaired and have them repaired properly to ensure that they are safe. They would do it in conjunction with Island Traffic Authority (ITA) examiners, have them inspect the cars to make sure that the repair process was done properly before they are sold, and regulate it properly to ensure that what was happening before does not happen again," McKay suggested.
Director of the ITA, Ludlow Powell, explained that "The Trade Board is responsible for issuing licences for motor vehicles. The ITA is the one who determines if they are roadworthy."
BE MORE OUTSPOKEN
McKay said the Government needs to be more outspoken on the issue and give directives to specific agencies, so that the importation can be done without loopholes which unscrupulous people can exploit.
"The Government needs to become more involved. Trade Board is the one to issue licences when you want to bring down a vehicle. Now, what you would have to get first from the US is confirmation that the car can be restored safely. When a car is written off in the US, they decide what grade it is written off at, whether it is a repairable car, in which case they will issue a rebuilt title or a regular salvage title," he said.
How it has been assessed determines what can then be done with the damaged vehicle. "If it is a junk title, it means it is not to be rebuilt," McKay said. In that case, he said, "Those cars they (the Jamaican government) don't allow to come in at all. When they do approve for those that can be rebuilt to come they need to be given to an authorised repairer, preferably an MRAJ member, because the members have certain regulations in terms of the quality of work and the technicians they have. It is pretty simple and straightforward. It's just a matter of making sure the right people are involved."
He identified one illegitimate method of importing damaged vehicles as the misuse of persons' names. "From what I understand, there were people who were using (other) individuals' names to get a licence and bring it down. Usually it is not to be sold for two or three years or be transferred out of the name of the people who brought it in, but persons were finding ways to get around that time limit. So it turned into a business where they could fix the car and sell it in a short period of time," McKay said.
Another shortcut and dangerous practice McKay identified was the use of substandard welding practices. "They would use settling welding to repair the car, which is not recommended. Settling welding heats up the metal around it, so what it does is weaken the iron until it starts to rust, so if a car meets in an accident it could actually fall apart or break in two. What they should be using is electrical welding," McKay said.
In addition, he said, "Sometimes the airbags didn't work, so people would get injured. And sometimes there was no airbag."
GROWTH FOR ECONOMY
McKay pointed out that repairing damaged vehicles in Jamaica will spark economic growth by providing employment. "It will stimulate business, because a lot of repairers now have to lay off people and cut staff, because the work just isn't there. So this will bring back jobs," McKay said.
"The main thing is for the cars to be repaired properly and safely," he reiterated.
Powell said a policy is now being worked on which will provide directives on the way forward for the importation of damaged vehicles. "I'm not sure as yet what the policy is. I can't comment on it as yet. There is a task force that is being put together and we will be part of it," Powell said.