Traffic tickets ‘fiasco’ explained: Another insight into disjointed public administration

For completeness, let me share what the Court Management System (CMS) issued yesterday (and was reported in both the Jamaica Observer and Gleaner, but replicated in full below–the bold highlights are mine for emphasis) in an effort to calm the public outrage about seemingly light fines or sentences for traffic violations. This is the ‘voice’ of the Judiciary, not that of the police force (and by extension the Ministry of National Security) which put information into the public domain, initially. So, its efforts ‘to clarify some of the misinformation which has been aired in both social and mainstream media’ is pointing an invisible finger at the JCF for its somewhat jubilant but unvarnished reporting of the traffic fines, such this Twitter post on October 17:

If I accept these clarifications, then my analysis in a blog post last week that we were seeing a disguised amnesty is incorrect. I hope, though, that we are kept abreast of how this process develops, in the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, because a lot of money is at stake if the underlying fines are not paid.

Court Management System (CMS) statement:

Following the extensive discussions in the public domain in respect of fines being imposed on Motorists who have been issued with hundreds of traffic tickets, the Judiciary would like to clarify some of the misinformation which has been aired in both social and mainstream media. The misinformation, we believe, is as a result of the release of incomplete information to the public.

The following should provide clarity on some issues raised in the ongoing public discussion on this matter:

  1. Outstanding Tickets
  • Each outstanding ticket relates to a separate charge. A number of the motorists who have hundreds or over a thousand tickets have accumulated them over several years, (in at least one case from as far back as 2010), and in more than one parishes.
  • Each Parish Court can only deal with those tickets issued within the parish for which that court has jurisdiction. Motorists who have accumulated tickets in different parishes have to attend court in each parish to answer to the tickets issued in that parish
  • Each outstanding ticket has to be located and relisted for hearing. If a motorist pleads not guilty, the matter has to be tried. For there to be a trial, the policeman who issued the ticket has to provide a statement, if one was not initially provided.

      2. Executed Warrants

  • When a motorist is brought before the court on an executed warrant, he only answers to the particular offence(s) listed on that warrant. For example, someone who has five hundred (500) outstanding tickets who is brought to court on three executed warrants, will only answer to the charges on those warrants and not all their outstanding tickets. The court can only deal with the offences listed before it. The other tickets remain outstanding for future adjudication. It is therefore inaccurate that the courts are giving discounted fines to persistent traffic offenders.

      3. Guilty Pleas

  • Once a motorist who is brought before the court on an executed warrant, pleads guilty to the listed offences and fines are imposed and paid, the court has no power to further detain the person on any other outstanding matter(s) unless another warrant is executed on the defendant.

      4. Available Sentencing Options –

The Road Traffic Act (RTA) stipulates the penalties that can be imposed:

  • Most ticketable offences do not carry the option of a custodial sentence regardless of how many times an offender has been ticketed.
  • The penalty is usually limited to a fine. The courts are not empowered to increase these fines.
  • In some circumstances, the court may additionally suspend the individual’s driver’s licence.
  • There are instances where the maximum fine that can be imposed by the court is less than the fine payable at the Tax Office. The offences of ‘exceeding the speed limit’ and ‘disobeying traffic signs and traffic lights’ for example, attract a lesser fine in court than at the Tax Office. If a person who is issued with a ticket for exceeding the speed limit, comes before the court, the maximum fine the court is empowered to impose under the RTA is $6,000.
  • Significantly, in respect of most ticketable offences, section 116(10) of the RTA prevents the court from considering previous offences when sentencing a motorist for a current offence, even where the previous offences are similar.

      5. Reform Initiatives

Through the joint efforts of the Ministries of National Security, Justice and the Court Management Services, a new Traffic Ticketing Management System (TTMS) will soon be commissioned. This improved system will among other enhancements:

  • Ensure that the police, tax offices and the courts all have simultaneous access to one constantly updated database showing an accurate status of paid and outstanding traffic tickets; and
  • Provide for the automatic generation of warrants for checking and signature to replace the manual completion of warrants that currently obtains.

The Judiciary of Jamaica enjoins all justice partners and stakeholders to ensure, as far as possible, that complete and accurate information is issued to the public concerning matters addressed by the courts. This will help to uphold respect for the Rule of Law and reduce the danger of the credibility of, not just the courts, but also the entire justice system being seriously undermined.

The Judiciary of Jamaica remains committed to doing our part to ensure the maintenance of law and order in our society.

This gives valuable insight into the the several aspects that go into the execution of punishment for crimes and as is somewhat typical in Jamaica points to horrible flaws and gaps in the management of ‘justice’, not least because of disjointed, even contradictory adminstrative procedures, incompatible legislation, and antiquated record-keeping. This is a microcosm of many of the things that fail in Jamaica, and no amount of urging has gotten them fixed in a hurry. The consequence in most cases is a sapping of public confidence and trust in public administration and the reaction that the system is corrupt. What we see, though, is a system that did not work properly (and its being ‘in tatters’ had been vividly shown in reports at the start of the year) and as such is another drag on attempts to change meaningfully how this country operates. Like a new born, we see nine months later the birth of the new system, and JCF acted like the jubilant parent. OK, let’s excuse what amounts to yet another misstep by Public Safety and Traffic Management Branch (PSTMB), which has managed to put its foot in its mouth frequently in recent months, further aggravating and disenchanting much of the Jamaican public.

If that seems a harsh assessment, put yourself in the shoes of the average Jamaican road user who personally endures travesties daily, and/or sees vivid evidence of a recklessness that is taking lives as if they do not matter, and in their genuine search for signs that these are being addressed then see what appears to be slaps on the wrist. What one needs to understand is that many will not see the explanations offered yesterday and will believe that the system is bent and tend to act consistently with that. News and information management is not trivial, especially in this age where it’s fast and disaggregated and checking for facts isn’t everyone’s forte and corrections can easily go unnoticed in a stream of information that’s hard to manage. Damage limitation often means taking some more time before issuing seemingly definitive releases to the public and indicating if and where gaps in that information may exist. But, of course, doing that admits to a certain fallibility that many organizations fear. Meanwhile, we the people have to deal with unnecessary confusion.

 

 

#RoadWarriorTalesJa—Expect the unexpected and visiting the undertakers

Tourists, especially North Americans, often comment about how fast Jamaicans drive. My observation is that this is more a reaction to vehicles travelling on narrow roads and closer to each other, compared to the more-spacious travel experiences on their roads–lots of multilane urban and rural roads, and even single lane rural roads can seem wide–rather than about real speed. However, I don’t argue much when they say Jamaicans do some crazy stuff on the road. The following videos give you a taste from yesterday early afternoon.

In the first (Grants Pen Road then Shortwood Road), you can see that impatience is rife and how it’s dealt with is often by bending traffic rules (overtaking when there’s a solid white line) and ignoring risks created for other road users (assuming no vehicles will be coming in the opposite direction from two entry points). Our narrow roads often result in delays caused by turns, as you can see in the early part, and build up of frustration is understandable. It’s responses aren’t always easy to address.

In the second, on a stretch of newish multilane highway (Mandela Highway westbound), we see common cause of frustration, the lane hogs in the outside lane. In the US, this is often seen and undertaking (passing on the inside) is often not illegal in multilane roads. In Jamaica, it’s supposed to be illegal but our exposure to that country make some assume their rules are ours. You can see that I succumbed as the line of traffic building behind the lane hogs was lengthening. Our drivers often don’t know the traffic rules (anecdotal evidence is that many just buy their licences) and so don’t respond to urging to comply. Lane hogging I often see practised by driving ‘professionals’, such as truck drivers and public bus operators.

You can enjoy spotting some of our looser driving habits, eg the driver with the arm dangling outside the vehicle 🤔😳🇯🇲

#RoadWarriorTalesJa–Crash course

You never know what lies ahead on the road. Yesterday, a man just walked off the sidewalk in front of my car as I approached a traffic light; not a look sideways or any sense that he might have been in danger. In Jamaican parlance, he looked like someone of ‘unsound mind, and he acted like one.

So today, after a quick errand to Cross Roads late Saturday afternoon, I was headed back to take a walk. But, as I approached Hope Road along Lady Musgrave Road, traffic seemed surprisingly congested; not like a weekday but sluggish. As I reached TGIF, I saw the problem a taxi crashed and a wrecker awaiting (see 2 minutes into the video).

For many who see it, the feeling will be far short of an ounce of sympathy that another route taxi will be off the roads for a while.

#RoadWarriorTalesJa–The gate switcheroo

When you thing simple things are made complicated for no apparent reason, you must mean ’in Jamaica’, especially.

What could be easier than using the gate marked ’entrance’? Using the one marked ’exit’!

This is at our National Stadium and I know this ’reversal’ is common because I used to go there often, but I forgot this week. What I recall is how this little switcheroo often caused a traffic jam, unnecessarily.

This time, my backing up wasn’t into a stream of rush hour traffic or at night and I didn’t add much risk. But, as easy as it seems, one wonders why things work this way and if they do, why not revert to ’use exit to enter’. Of course, that’d seem absurd! Jamaica, land we love! 🇯🇲👀😒

Looks like a duck, walks like a duck. So, why pretend we are not seeing another traffic ticket amnesty?

There’s an understandable tendency to defer to authority. At it’s worst, it means that people accept that all things done in the name of authority are good. It’s often manifested in reactions such as ‘rules are rules’. However, it’s good when ‘rules are rules’ are met by ‘well only some rules matter’ when applied by ‘the authorities’.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of highly publicized instances of traffic infractions being sent to courts and the results are ‘interesting’. The police have done their part: fines have been issued and summons have been laid against those who are delinquent in paying them. Jamaica has gone through years of fines going unpaid and the police have flagged that they either cannot impose payment or the system of ticket was dysfunctional and didn’t permit a proper tracking of non-payment. This was well spelled out in a recent Gleaner editorial, What’s So Hard About Fixing Traffic Ticket System?. As the Gleaner reported then: ‘…national security ministry conceded that their Traffic Ticket Management System isn’t appropriately synchronised across agencies and that it is often not fed with correct information.’ We learned, also, that drivers sometimes went to pay fines and found they could not! Without going into the technicalities, that dysfunction seems to have been fixed. However, in light of previous enforcement problems, the authorities decided to ‘cut their losses’ by offering amnseties, which ‘cleaned’ the slate, in essence. But, there were financial wins for the authorities, during the last (2018) amnesty, if they collected J$700m concerning 300,000 tickets, that’s about $2300/ticket. Not a bad haul. However, set that against the J$5 billion, at the time of the 2012 amnesty, and J$2.84 billion during the last one. That’s a hefty discount offered by the State. But, as I have said, repeatedly, Jamaicans are extremely rational and naturally saw the bigger win for them in hoping for and then accepting amnesties. The simple truth, though, is that the country was forced to lose precious revenue and accept that law-breaking paid. That’s a truth that stretches far and bolsters the sense of impunity that has its worse manifestation in the crime ‘wave’ that seems to know no cure.

Jamaica Constabulary have worked hard in recent weeks to repair some self-inflicted damage in the matter of policing traffic infractions and publicized a series of cases where those with astonishing numbers of unpaid tickets have been ‘brought to justice’, eg:

Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 8.41.00 AM

Taking the previous figures as illustrative, we can see from these cases that the authorities are getting somewhere between $80-300/ticket–against some $2,100/ticket last time. This is an even heftier discount. I’ve no figures to confirm the actual level of fines that underlies these cases. Naturally, many see this as a travesty and worthy of query about ‘what is going on?’.

However, anyone who’s numerate or can apply logic can figure out that what has happened recently with the flurry of traffic convictions/fines is that the Jamaican ‘authorities’ have offered another disguised amnesty. The most generous interpretation is that the courts have applied fines to some infractions and excused others, or decided to apply ‘discretion’ and lower fines on all/most tickets. Either way, the outcomes are tme same. As we say in Jamaica: they gave a ‘bly’.

As past amnesties proved, they DO NOT CHANGE BEHAVIOUR, merely encourage delay in paying fines.

Will the authorities come clean?

The public sees rampant bad behaviour on the road, especially by some route taxi drivers, but also by other citizens. But, they also see little real evidence that the authorities want to curb that.

Give it back, it’s mine! On matters of ‘cultural appropriation’

It’s trite to say that the world is complicated. However, many of us are involved in trying to simplify much of the world’s complexities, with some success but often failing miserably. The following is just an example that arose this week.

We’ve just passed an important annual celebration in our nation’s short history as an independent entity and it tends to focus minds, often on things that were hiding in plain sight. Because of that realisation, we’re often treated to a brief period of outrage, but can’t say with hands on heart that anything will change and the cause of our ire will not recur.

So, the topic is ‘appropriation‘. In its simplest form, dictionaries define it as ‘the act of taking something, usually without permission, like stealing your brother’s french fries when he is momentarily distracted. Appropriation originally referred to the taking of private property, usually by the government’. Ironically, our ire has been stirred by a private person taking something our nation (qua government) owns and taken us into the thorny forest of ‘cultural appropriation’.

So, normally, we get upset if we suspect appropriation has happened to personal property (at its worst, we suspect theft). But, we are also upset if this appears to happen to things we see as ‘national property’. Again, at its simplest, we notice it with real assets such as land or other forms of property, but also our financial wealth (eg if our national foreign exchange reserves were seized or frozen by another country or misappropriated by public officials). In such cases, it’s quite easy to understand what has been taken. But, the world has become more complicated when it comes to assets and those that are less tangible, such as intellectual property, can cause lots of problems.

Over the past few days, this latter problem has surfaced because the American superstar-musician Kanye West came to Jamaica all of a sudden and performed a ‘Sunday Service’, reflecting his new-found state of grace in enbracing Christianity. His religious conversion is his business and sharing iti with anyone else is also his business. But, in the process he appropriated some of Jamaica’s property in the form of our national symbols (coat of arms and crest of the City of Kingston) on merchadise that was being sold to commemorate the event and of course to gain revenue to more than compensate for any costs he incurred: it’s business, profit is normal. Our Minister of Culture and Entertainment has said publicly that this was done without seeking permission: “We neither received a request for nor did we give permission for our national symbols and emblems to be used for a commercial manner or otherwise. I have since requested that the items be withdrawn, and the vendor has agreed to do so,”. She has requested the merchadise be pulled. Enter stage right, on cue, Outrage and National Pride.

I wish the minister good luck. I think, for the sake of goodwill, the merchandise will be pulled, though someone will need to check on a continuous basis that this remains in effect until such time as permission is sought and granted. Whatever costs were incurred in creating the merchandise needs to be covered directly by selling it or by ekeing out profit from other sales to compensate for the loss. If reports that Mr. West’s business is valued at US$1.5 billion and hopes to soon move to $3 billion are correct, one can do the quick assessement that things that make losses are not part of the ‘master plan’. But, what if ‘good will be damned!’ steps in, despite this seeming like an un-Christian stance? What could little Jamaica do? The means to protect intellectual property nationally through the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) or internationally through the World International Property Office (WIPO) isn’t easy, not least because other countries stand to gain much from filching others’ property. The adage is that size doesn’t matter, but trust me, in matters like this, it matters a lot. ‘Take him to court!’, ‘Throw the book at him!’ Calm down. Where should we take him to court? Which book should we throw at him? Many Jamaicans will know that even simple matters of law and fact don’t come to quick resolution in the land of wood and water. In fact, our motto could be changed to ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’; that’s a bit harsh, perhaps, but enough cases have languished for one to say that it’s not too far from the truth.

So, I will watch from my little perch to see where the exhortations and pleadings go. I’m not a cynic, but a realist, and being an economist my vision of the future must be based on prudent assumptions. But I don’t see any major win coming our way, though I am happy to be proved wrong.

I haven’t shown any clear images of the offending merchandise out of a sense of (too much?) caution that doing so would also be a kind of infringement.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 10.40.33 AM
Sunday Service Concert at Emancipation Park, October 18, 2019 (photo credit: Buzz Caribbean)

But, keen people can see more precisely for themselves what is at stake by searching the Internet.

In all this, I could add the somewhat obvious points about what happens when: (1) things are done in haste; (2) negotiations are between unequal parties; (3) talk is cheap and actions don’t stand up as tall as words (how long has the matter of protecting national property rights been on some ‘back burner’); or more. But, let’s leave those considerations for another time, eh. 🙂

Celebrating our many national heroes hiding in plain sight

Every year, since I came back to Jamaica, a singular thought runs through my head: National Heroes Day needs to celebrate the many Jamaicans who have done so much for this country who are unlikely to find themselves on any list of honours. I suspect that almost every family has a person somewhere in its history who can be seen as a national hero. In my case, I often think back to the stories of what family members did to build something for themselves and by extension for others in the family.

  • My maternal grandfather left South St. Elizabeth to work the cane fields of Cuba, to then return and continue to be father to his 11 children.
  • My paternal grandmother left St. Mary to go to Kingston and sell charcoal, later become a domestic and lay a base for my father to also go the capital, study more and later work as a nurse at Bellevue Hospital.
  • My parents left Jamaica in 1961 so that my mother could find better work as a nurse, while my father abandoned his nursing career to follow her, and build a base for me to study in England and eventually go to university and later find myself working for the IMF. I don’t think either of them would want to have more done than the family’s recognition. No need for ribbons and bows. No need for any ‘Windrush Generation’ accolades.
  • My maternal uncle who studied hard and loved education so much that he eventually became Principal of Nain All-Age School, and died having done much to expand and extend the scope of the school in his ‘home’ district. He was also the family historian, whose memories of those now long gone were so valuable.
  • My aunt who went to England in the 1950s to nurse and later provided encouragement for my father to also go to England, despite his real reluctance. Her children were all born in England and still live there, but manage to visit Jamaica often and keep some real connection with this island. This aunt is now happily back in St. Mary, in her home district.

While some will sit at Kings House under tents or on chairs, I will be raising a silent toast to those above and others whom I know are truly Jamaican national heroes.

Please don’t consider alternatives

Just reflecting on Jamaicans’ often common resistance to full discussion, in the following Twitter thread.

Thoughts on some Jamaican productivity issues: traffic woes and paper flows

Last night, I should have attended an important launch in New Kingston. Fortunately, I didn’t try to go but ended up heading to the University of Technology to sign some loan documents for a student. I heard on the radio that traffic was terrible, after another bout of seasonal afternoon rain, and my student sent a text message to say that our 6.45pm meeting would have to be at 7.30, though her class was due to start at 7. After I got home, I had a few thoughts on this common situation, which are in the following Twitter thread:

Random image from my dashcam last night. Old Hope Rd, eastbound

Let’s all play detective 🤔

Over time, I’ve developed a high degree of skepticism. Years of dealing officially with people who have strong interests in hiding information have taught me to at least double check what is presented as facts.

Internet access and social media, specifically, have opened up a flood of false reports, in part because people get a buzz from being part of breaking stories, but also because some like being disruptive and misinformation is another ‘toy’ in their arsenal; some also don’t know how to verify information and rather than being seen as passive or not caring, they will share indiscriminately. At its extreme, there’s just fabricated information. Often, there’s misinformation that gets spread with good intentions but without any serious checking. Sadly, we all have to be the filters. Other than hoping that everyone checks before pressing ‘forward’ or ‘retweet’, I’m not sure what exhortations one can offer.

This is a constant concern, but it sometimes hits home more when one reads or sees something that palpably false. Add to this, technology that allows creation of false images or videos that are not truthful. (The BBC drama ‘The Capture’ is a scary crime story based on fabricated CCTV footage.) Yet, we are often comfortable that what we see and hear should be believed.

If you’ve any experience with photography you’ll know how easy it is to convey false narratives with images, just by simply choosing a particular perspective from which to film.

For my own sanity, I trust few things on first take and often rewatch to see if I note signs of splicing, shifting of angles, etc. That’s harder with amateur videos, say, that purport to be ‘live’ action, with its shakiness, etc. But, I often look for tell-tale lies, such as signs or evidence to disprove a certain claim regarding location or timing. I saw one video of a robbery in Jamaica where the vehicles in the footage were driving on the right side of the road–we drive on the left. Without sound, eg foreign voices or accents, one can easiy be fooled. A video of police allegedly beating a young man in Kingston was circulated at the weekend, and is now being investigate by the JCF. However, one of my first thoughts was to recall reports of people dressing as police to perpetrate crimes. That is not a new story (see ‘Beware of criminals in cop clothes‘ reported in 2015, and convictions of people impersonating police officers). As I noted to a fellow blogger, yesterday, I was also intrigued initially by the seeming lack of concern by the alleged policemen given that it was clear that people were using phones to capture their actions. This incident, first shown in a 30 second video on social media, was followed by much longer video versions of the incident (WARNING: VIOLENCE & OBSCENE LANGUAGE).

We’re seeing many more instances of ‘citizen journalism’ and flitering is often harder because the initial intent is usually just a personal recording that then turns into something more interesting, especially if the incident shows apparent law breaking. At its more amusing and less harmful are the plethora of pet and children videos. At its more disturbing are the CCTV images captured of crimes or misdeeds, eg inside people’s homes by caregivers or inside instutitions where responsible caregivers are seen to be abusers.

But, it’s a set of difficult paths to tread. We’re finding in Jamaica that well-intentioned video taping of traffic infractions may be less useful if the person recording is not prepared to be publicly associated with it, for a bunch of understandable reasons (reprisals, collusion, etc). Each person has to find his/her own comfort level. We do know, however, that video evidence has not eliminated misdeeds, most vividly in the case of police officers wearing bodycams or using vehicles equipped with dashcams, which are then the source of corroborating evidence. The Brookings Institute (2017) study, ‘Do body-worn cameras improve police behavior?‘, stated ‘The behavior of officers who wore cameras all the time was indistinguishable from the behavior of those who never wore cameras…Those officers may become more likely to use force when they know camera footage will demonstrate the facts were on their side.’ 

So, we’re left with another puzzle to solve in the Internet age.