Summary Jurisdiction (Procedure) (Amendment)1808 27 Jun, 2012
Mr. Rohee: Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I would like to continue from where I left off. We have before us the explanatory memorandum to this Bill which has to do with the issue of traffic tickets and the need to put in place a mechanism that would ensure that when traffic tickets are issued by a traffic rank, a copy of that traffic ticket is taken to the officer in charge of the particular police station within a station district and that a copy, in addition to that, be submitted to the Clerk of Court of the Magistrate’s Court in the specific magisterial district. Those ranks who do not comply with this procedure or this requirement will now be committing an offence against discipline and would be liable to punishment as may be imposed by the Police Discipline Act.
Clause 3 seeks to amend the principal Act with the insertion of section A. This section A deals with the disqualification of a licensee and sets out the procedure to be followed where the alleged offender of the traffic offence does not appear in court during the time stipulated by law and what procedure will follow if that person does not appear in court, or if that person fails to pay the fine to which the ticket is associated.
The amendment also sets out the effect for the disqualification and the penalty incurred where the disqualified person applies to obtain a licence during the period of disqualification. In other words, a person not paying the fine, not appearing before the court and is tracked and found to be delinquent on both counts but yet turns up to obtain a licence, the question is, what action should be taken against that person having committed these offences, especially during the period of disqualification when he or she turns up to obtain a licence?
Finally, the amendment outlines the procedure to be followed by the Clerk of Court and the disqualified person where a disqualification order had been made by the Court.
Under subsection 1 of section 8 of the Summary Jurisdiction Procedure Act, a notice can be issued by a member of the Guyana Police Force to an individual where an offence has been committed or is being committed, and that notice takes the form of a traffic ticket. I have before me, a newspaper clipping which reflects an advisory issued under the Ministry of Home Affairs for traffic offences for which a ticket may be issued. There are 36 offences for which traffic tickets could be issued. We found it necessary to publish this information because what we found was that, surprisingly, although many persons would have sat the theoretical examinations to obtain a driver’s licence and probably would have been driving for many years – truck, minibus, car or motorcycle – interestingly enough, they would not be aware of what a ticketed traffic offence would be. In pursuance of our policy to keep the public informed and to educate the people, in general, we found it necessary to issue this advisory. What we also found was that traffic ranks were demanding that persons take their cars to the police station and those vehicles would remain there until some rank felt it was time enough for it to be released. That happened, as I said, because many persons were not aware...
Mr. Speaker: My daughter was a victim of that last week.
Mr. Rohee: Well, there you go; that is another case and it is quite as recent as last week.
We need to address these problems because they create irritancy for persons who, probably quite innocently, are not aware of the fact that they might be breaking the law or might be engaging in a traffic offence. When the ticket is issued, therefore, the person is required to appear at a magistrate’s court within a specified period of time, that is, seven days, to either pay the fine or to contest the offence for which the ticket was issued. There are people who simply pay the fine and go their way in peace. The others who are convinced that they did not commit an offence, and on the other hand there is a traffic rank who is convinced that the person did commit an offence, so the matter has to go for adjudication before a magistrate’s court.
If the person pays the fine, then that is the end of the matter; there is no further proceeding. But if within less than 14 days, the fine is not paid following the issuance of the ticket and if the individual fails to turn up in court in addition to not paying the fine, then my understanding is that the magistrate has the option, according to section 8 (8) of the Summary Jurisdiction Procedure Act, of adjudicating the complaint in the alleged offender’s absence and either adjourning the proceedings or issuing a warrant in favour of the individual.
I have here with me, a newspaper clipping, Wednesday, June 13, which states as a headline “Arrest Warrants pile up in Berbice for traffic offences”. It says here that the learned Magistrate Adella Nagamootoo presiding in the New Amsterdam Magistrate’s Court had to affix her signature to well over 100 arrest warrants to be executed on drivers who have been issued traffic tickets but failed to pay them. This is only in the Berbice magisterial district. This is common in most of the magisterial districts where people, for one reason or the other, do not pay the fine or do not turn up in court. With that being a common practice, what we have found is a disconnect between the police traffic department and the magistrate’s court and that is why people have been taking advantage of that lack of coordination and communication between the police traffic department and the magistrate’s court. How would the police know if the fine is not paid and if the person does not turn up in court, especially if it is in a different magisterial district? If a person commits a traffic offence in Berbice but lives on the West Demerara, and does not turn up in the Berbice magisterial district... [Mr. Felix: Too bad] “Too bad,” said Mr. Felix. That is why the law has to take cognisance of this situation and address it.
What we have decided, having had lengthy discussions with the Chancellor on this matter because, obviously, we could not proceed on a matter like this without the involvement of the Chancellor. We had lengthy discussions with the Chancellor, the Police Traffic Department and the Ministry of Home Affairs and, as a result of those discussions, we have decided to overhaul the entire system that exists currently and put in place a monitoring mechanism which would reconcile traffic offenders charged by the Guyana Police Force and the disposal of those cases in the magistrate’s court, to be able to reconcile the records and to be able to track the offenders as well. And so, we have developed what is called an electronic traffic ticket accounting system. Again we come back to the question of e-governance that my colleague, Hon. Member Mr. Nadir, mentioned. We have to apply information communication technology to every aspect to law enforcement as best as we can to ensure that accountability, transparency and implementation all be laws and enforcement of the laws is done in such a manner that it is beyond reproach, so that we input the information on the traffic tickets at the police station and there is a wide area network where that information, at the same time, is captured at the magistrate’s court where the Clerk of Court is in a position to do so.
The manual system that is currently in place has revealed that information on traffic offenders is passed to the magistrate’s court via copy of the traffic ticket issued by the traffic department and there are some problems in that. One of the problems is the considerable delay in the magistrate’s court receiving the traffic tickets from the Guyana Police Force. It takes an inordinate amount of time for the tickets to move from the Police Force to the magistrate’s court. And that does not permit the courts to enforce the seven days payment period to traffic offenders. By the time the ticket gets to the magistrate’s court, the seven days period has elapsed and there is nothing that can be done by the courts.
In addition to that, the manual system, apart from posing several other challenges, if the ticket is not sent or recorded at the magistrate’s court, a traffic offender can easily avoid paying the stipulated fine and there is absolutely no independent mechanism to quickly verify that the fine has been paid or not paid.
What we did, and I think Members will find this interesting, was to do some investigations and this was done in 2009. What we found was that a total of 54,090 traffic tickets were issued for various offences countrywide. What was the value of these traffic tickets that were issued countrywide? The value of those traffic tickets that were issued countrywide according to the fines or the penalties amounted to $347,835,000. $347,835,000! That is what the state was losing in revenue as a result of people not paying traffic tickets. Payment was received only for 10,262 traffic tickets of the 54,090 traffic tickets, which amounted to $58,322,368 which meant that 43,828 traffic tickets went unpaid.
This meant that we were losing $289,512,632 in revenue. We simply cannot afford this; it makes law enforcement a mockery. If we are enforcing the law then we are enforcing the law. We cannot only enforce the law by a static police traffic rank and by taking an inordinate amount of time for the ticket to arrive at the Magistrate Court. We have to address this problem, and this is what we are seeking to address.
In excess of 80% of the persons who were issued with traffic tickets never paid it. We have to address, as we are seeking to do, this problem. By inserting a new section 8(14), which envisages that the member of the force will exercise prudence and ensure that a copy of the ticket is dispatched to the Magistrate Court within three days, while another is submitted to the Police Station.
We looked at what obtains in Trinidad and Tobago, obviously because the drafters of the law have to look around to see what obtains in other CARICOM countries to learn from their experiences. What we found is that Trinidad and Tobago has a fixed penalty. We wish to note that these are not the only efforts we are making to address this challenge. We are contemplating putting in place a traffic ticket accounting system into the operational routine of the Magistrate Court and the Police Traffic Department. We envisage that in the not too distant future this information will be transmitted on a real-time basis. That is the objection which we have set for ourselves, consistent with our efforts to enforce the law.
With respect to the proposed insertion of section (a) which deals with disqualification of licence, under section 8 of the Summary Jurisdiction Procedure Act if the fine for the ticket is not paid within the designated period and the alleged offender does not appear in Court at the time that the person is expected to appear in Court, the Court will deal with the matter, as I had earlier explained.
The proposed section 8(a) maintains the power of the Magistrate to Act under section 8(a) of the Summary Jurisdiction Procedure Act. Here, the fine is not restricted to what is stated on the traffic ticket, but also includes a half of the original fine per month for every months or part of each month following the suspension of the licence until the final amount is paid.
We believe that failure by alleged offenders to properly deal with traffic tickets has resulted in serious disregard for the judicial system in this country. Therefore, drastic action is required to implement and deal with this dilemma. Any suspension of a driver’s licence under section 8(a) would be as if incurred under the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act, especially section 1, 2, 3 and 5 as well as section 6 of the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act, chapter 51:02, section 32(5). This is particularly important especially in a case where a person is disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence. The person would be liable to, on a summary conviction, imprisonment for 12 months, or if he/she is to be fined as a more appropriate punishment, the person would be subject to a fine of no less than $25,000 or no more than $50,000, or both to such a fine and imprisonment. In the meantime, the licence obtained by such a person would be deemed invalid.
In fact, like I said earlier there are a number of vehicles driving around this country with false number plates and bogus papers. We are now moving to put in place a system of electronically generated number plates. We believe that the time has come for us to move in this direction. The Ministry of Home Affairs is working with the GRA to ensure that number plates of vehicles are like the new machine-readable passports, have certain built in security features which will be difficult for anyone to change; “Kiki”. We have to get serious. The “kiki-ing” that we hear from time to time, I do not know what that means, I hope it does not mean that when these things are put in place they would not be honoured, or they would be honoured in the breach. So, when we get on with our “kiki-ing” I think it is important to recognise that we are talking serious business. I am not saying that only we on this side of the House are serious. I know the other people over there are serious; it depends on the nature of the seriousness.
I wish to commend this Bill to the House, like the previous Bill, which is aimed at amending the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act. I remain unconvinced that this Bill will generate any controversy in Guyana. I believe that the larger Guyanese community out there will welcome this amendment because it speaks to addressing two problems. Firstly, is the constant losing of revenues - haemorrhaging of revenues. Secondly, the steps that the Government is taking to stop the haemorrhaging of revenues which is needed in any developing country. Thirdly, is the attempt to put a mechanism in place that will bring greater conciliation between the Guyana Police Force and the Magistrate Court. Following the implementation of that mechanism, there would be the placement of penalties for persons who would for reasons known only to themselves, disregard the law and as a result of that create an inordinate amount of problems within the criminal justice system. I wish to commend this Bill and to ask that it be read a second time.
Mr. Rohee (replying): Thank you Mr. Speaker. And I would like to thank the Members from the other side of the House for their support, Mr. Ramjattan from the Alliance For Change (AFC) and Mr. Basil Williams from the APNU, as well as my colleague on this side of the House. I sincerely wish we will have more pieces of legislation like this from both sides of the House that will meet with this kind of consensus.
I agree with the Hon. Member Mr. Williams that this is not an earth shattering or epoch making piece of legislation. Be that as it may, for the number of years I sat in this House we have had legislation of varying degrees in terms of their importance and significance. The important thing, as I think was said in the case of the previous Bill that was presented, is that there was this lacuna between the GRA and Ministry of Home Affairs to be corrected. We have to ensure that we put the appropriate legislation in place, whether simple or complex, to ensure that the law enforcement agencies operate within the meaning of the law. That is the fundamental point.
I think, and I wish to submit most respectfully, that every piece of legislation by way of a motion, or an amendment to the bill, or a new bill is important once it is tabled in this House. The importance of bills, motions, et cetera, being tabled in this House, that is where the importance lies. And the question also is - does it help make things better for our people, in general, whether they are supporters of the APNU, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) or the AFC or whichever the case may be? Once the legislation makes life easier for people in general I believe it should be welcome, and not be seen as a green, red or orange piece of legislation.
I would like to dismiss, outright, the statement made by the Hon. Member Mr. Basil Williams that we will engage in a fund raising activity. I think this is spurious to say the least. [Mr. B. Williams: Ms. Shadick said that and confirmed it.] I am referring to what the Hon. Mr. Basil Williams said. I am not referring to what Ms. Bibi Shadick said. I am referring to what the Hon. Member Basil Williams said and I will stick to that. The Hon. Member Basil Williams said that we or the Force will engage in fund raising activities on behalf of the State. Mr. Speaker, I believe this is moving from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, on a Point of Order. I cannot recall saying that the police is going to fund raise. The Hon. Member is paraphrasing. If he is going to do that he should implore the Hon. Member Ms. Shadick who confessed that the PPP/C would try to get money from where ever it can.
Mr. Speaker: I do not think she said that either. Hon. Members, Mr. Williams in your address you said that this Bill was for the Government to raise revenue. You said so. I think that Mr. Rohee, in his reply, has a right to address that in whatever style he wishes without transgressing any of the rules or the Standing Orders.
Mr. Rohee: Mr. Speaker, since the Hon. Member wants to be so precise with his language let me quote what he said. He said the police will be deployed left, right and centre to raise money. I am not going further. Raise money for what purpose, Mr. Speaker? First of all, I would like to dismiss that out of hand. This is an attempt to degenerate. This is an attempt to demoralise. This is an attempt to impugn the law enforcement agencies as a fund raising body for the Government. That is precisely what you are saying. Then the Hon. Member was leapfrogging from water cannons to stray catchers. He was all over the place rambling. I think he was actually searching for a point to make. And as usual the Hon. Member is so overconfident of himself he does not come prepared to participate in this debate. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition listens to him very carefully because what he is doing is reducing the quality of debates from the Opposition.
I think this Bill is aimed at putting an end to one manifestation of lawlessness where one commits a traffic office, is given a ticket and says – with due respect to Parliament language – to hell with the ticket and just disappears. What we are seeking to put in place is a machinery or mechanism to address this problem as we ought to do. I have to emphasise this because the Hon. Member is seeking to imply that this Bill is not worth the paper on which it is written and we are wasting the time of the House.
Hon. Member Ramjattan asked a pertinent question about the machinery or mechanism being put in place. And I agree with him. We have already, Hon. Member Ramjattan, put the machinery in place. The electronic wide area network is already in place. What we have to do is to ensure that it is constantly updated and working and as I said before the aim is to make it operate on a real time basis.
I would like to take this opportunity to correct some figures because the figures that I quoted are the figures we got in 2009. I would like to update those figures to current by stating that as of June 2012 the total number of tickets issued were 63,170 which amounted to $390,152,000. [Mr. Ramjattan: You said that already.] No. I did not say this already. I am correcting the figures for the records. We received $13,254,000 and we have lost $328,312,000 in revenue. This is where the importance or significance of the legislation lies. Because we are seeking to put in place a mechanism to recoup resources which should have gone to the state, to the Public Treasury. I am sure the Ministry of Finance and the Public Accounts Committee would be happy to know that we would have recouped this amount of money and put it in the Public Treasury for use as deemed by the National Assembly.
I therefore believe, as I verily said, that this Bill will serve a useful purpose to the nation. It is a Bill of national importance. It transcends partisan considerations and with that in mind I wish to move that the Bill be read a second time.
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