EDITORIAL - Unmask traffic corruption
Let's be clear about something. Corruption is the root cause of much carnage on Jamaican roads and can be blamed for the loss of scores of lives each year. It is an open secret that driver's licences can be bought, traffic cops can be bribed, and motor vehicles can be passed as fit at various depots without undergoing any examination in Jamaica.
So while we share the concerns of the road-safety lobby that a greater effort must be made to save lives, we feel that the focus should be fixed on eliminating corruption that is so pervasive in both the police Traffic Division and the Island Traffic Authority (ITA).
Speeding and careless driving were identified by Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), as the main contributory factors to road fatalities in an interview with The Gleaner. We may add that motorists who obtain bogus driver's licences despite poor driving skills, drunk driving, and unroadworthy vehicles are also factors that help to create mayhem on our roads.
Our comments are made against the background of the proposed new Road Traffic Act which was tabled in the House of Representatives earlier this week. Huge fines are being proposed for speeding and other violations, including motorists' use of electronic devices such as cell phones and televisions while driving.
On the plus side, if the Parliament passes the legislation that will approve the increase of some fines by as much as 300%, traffic fines would become a buoyant revenue stream for the Government. That is, if the fines are not diverted into the pockets of rogue policemen. So there is the danger that these increased fines may encourage even greater corruption from those who are seeking to escape stiff penalties.
More power for ITA
We learnt from Dr Jones also that the NRSC had been "fighting for years to have the ITA given the requisite power to suspend driver's licences".
And under the proposed new law, the NRSC would get its wish, since the ITA would establish a driver's offences register and would be authorised to suspend a driver's licence if the holder accumulates a significant number of demerit points.
For many years, successive governments have mooted the idea of divesting the ITA into private hands to ensure greater efficiency and transparency and to eliminate corruption. So why is the ITA, acknowledged by the auditor general as rife with corruption, being given greater authority in this new legislation? What is being done about the corrupt officers who are members of the ITA?
We submit that increased fines for motorists should be accompanied by requisite stringent punishment for traffic police and ITA members who are caught in acts of corruption. Enforcement must play a critical role in road safety.
But enforcement is threatened by corruption, and no matter how comprehensive, legislation alone will not achieve the desired effect. So new road-traffic legislation should not only focus on motorists, but should also seek to deter the corrupt lawmen.
If we are serious about road safety, the law should also deal with identifying and cancelling all driver's licences which were fraudulently obtained. All vehicles which are deemed to be unroadworthy should also be removed from the streets.
A comprehensive road-safety strategy must put equal weight on eliminating corruption and enforcing the law.
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