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.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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