Editorial | Mr Chuck’s epiphany
Given what they assumed was a clearing of the decks ahead of a new robust system for the management of traffic tickets, Delroy Chuck will no doubt forgive anyone who presumes government incompetence in how it has handled these arrangements.
This week, the justice minister told Parliament that between January and June this year, 65,195 new cases involving unpaid/contested traffic tickets were brought before the Corporate Area court that deals with these matters. Of these, 57,371, that is, 88 per cent, resulted in judges issuing bench warrants for the arrest of people to whom these tickets had been issued. Judges usually issue these warrants when the alleged traffic offender fails to attend his hearing.
But according to Mr Chuck, the majority of the warrants have not been served. There is a
double whammy on this issue - a matter of cause and effect.
Mr Chuck acknowledges that "far too many traffic violators" who have been served with tickets merely throw them away. They don't expect that warrants will be issued, or served, for their arrest, which, on the basis of his remarks in Parliament, is largely true.
The told side of the coin, the cause, as Mr Chuck puts it, of the court's "reluctance to proceed with warrants", is the "gap" between the information system of the court and that of tax offices, where traffic tickets are mostly settled. They don't, or can't, talk to each other. So, the court, Mr Chuck explained, "is unable to confirm whether the traffic tickets were paid at the tax office".
He added: "This gap enables persons to accumulate a large number of traffic tickets without sanctions being imposed. Greater collaboration is necessary to bridge this gap and streamline the process."
Mr Chuck is right. But we had thought that the Government had long ago had this epiphany. Unless Mr Chuck, and others in the administration, have forgotten about the traffic ticket amnesties and what they were about.
On January 13 this year, the Government completed a 45-day extension of traffic ticket amnesty - the first segment, covering three months - ended last October - for offences committed after September 2010. During the extension, the Government collected J$233 million from 98,814 transactions related to the amnesty. Over the original three months, it collected J$590 million, and 260,000 outstanding tickets were processed.
"Motorists who do not avail themselves of the amnesty will be vigorously pursued by the law," said then national security minister Robert Montague at the time.
BUNTING'S TRAFFIC AMENESTY
Mr Montague, however, isn't the only recent minister to promote a traffic ticket amnesty. Five years earlier, in 2012, his predecessor, Peter Bunting, did a similar thing, over six months, for tickets issued prior to 21 September, 2010. The Government, from that effort, collected J$340 million, of which 60 per cent came on the final day.
On both occasions, people were told that the authorities were on their way to streamlining the traffic-ticketing process. The system would be computerised. And if it wasn't specifically said, it was strongly implied that the computer systems would be linked, with the capacity to interrogate each other. Indeed, we assumed that it was all part of the administration's much-touted process of running a joined-up Government and an expansion of its e-Gov protocols of doing business electronically. The tax registration number, which is critical information on an individual's driver's licence and appears on traffic tickets, should make such cross-agency communication easy.
It is urgent, now that Mr Chuck recognises the problem, that he have it fixed. For as Lucien Jones of the National Road Safety Council observed, this failure of the court "breeds contempt for the law" and an impunity that contributes to bad driving on the roads. And, we dare say, backlogs in the courts.