There is absolutely no doubt that the recent debate and passage of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 in the Lower House of Parliament was serious business. Speakers from both the ruling Democratic Labour Party and the Opposition Barbados Labour Party had their say with varying degrees of impact and conviction.
However, the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 could very well have been the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2006. Truth be told, and if Barbadians add memory to eyes and ears, they will recall that this piece of legislation first saw the light of day when it was introduced to the Lower House in 2006 by then-Attorney General Dale Marshall. The debate on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2006 actually commenced in Parliament but was quickly aborted and withdrawn after it was discovered that the construction of the legislation then made it not dissimilar to Swiss cheese. It has now taken 11 years to attempt to fill the holes.
We understand that with the exception of sections dealing with the protection of the disabled, policing of manufacturers of vehicle licence plates, breathalyzer testing and mandatory drug testing, the content of the rebooted legislation remains largely what was introduced and then aborted by the Owen Arthur administration in 2006. The facts are there for those with willing, apolitical eyes, ears and memory. So why the fuss in our Parliament from some quarters as though the ‘new’ legislation is akin to some Road to Damascus moment?
In his contribution to the debate, St James North MP Edmund Hinkson, whose input to the Lower Chamber is usually particularly sound, pertinent and erudite, raised concerns about aspects of the amended legislation as they relate to the disabled as well as the use of breathalyzers. He questioned the level of fines to be imposed on defaulters parking in areas designated for persons with disabilities. Mr Hinkson suggested that the $500 fine was too small and it should instead be $1 000. He is perfectly within his rights to suggest a heavier fine but Mr Hinkson would find it quite interesting that if he perused the original Bill brought to the Lower House in 2006 that there was no $500 fine or $1 000 fine. Indeed, the Government of 2006 brought nothing in the amendment dealing specifically with those who parked in areas designated for persons with disabilities.
Breathalyzer testing has been around in other jurisdictions for more than 40 years. Barbados is rooted firmly in the Dark Ages with respect to such testing and the laws to give it legitimacy. Following the 2007 Joe’s River bus tragedy that claimed six lives and the Emancipation Day Mullins, St Peter accident that claimed four more just over 48 hours later, a gazetted police officer noted that vehicular accidents claimed more lives annually than murders. Without attributing any blame or connection to anyone involved in those horrendous accidents, a number of persons made calls once again for the introduction of breathalyzer testing. Of course, such testing will not automatically translate into fewer accidents but it can help in promoting and encouraging greater sobriety among our motorists.
In 2006 then Minister of Transport and Works Gline Clarke stated that a committee had been put in place to examine the introduction of breathalyzer testing. He said then: “We are pursuing it at this time. I am convinced that we have to do this now because a lot of complaints have been coming to the Ministry recently about this issue.” That was 11 years ago and, similar to consideration for laws to safeguard the rights of the disabled, the Bill brought before Parliament then did not deal with the question of breathalyzer testing. Perhaps, Mr Clarke’s committee did not get back to him before January 2008.
We believe both sides of the Lower House have the best interest of Barbados at heart. The political protagonists might not always have the resources or power to put that interest into practical deeds. But in cases such as the recent debate on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017, both sides would do well to acknowledge sometimes the continuity of the idea of Government and desist from merely playing to the political gallery in situations where both are really telling the same story.
But this is the silly season and perhaps anything goes.