Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite gave us something on which to chew last week when he spoke on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017.
Government’s chief legal adviser told his parliamentary colleagues that the legislation ought to have included provisions for fixed fines via tickets issued by traffic police, rather than having offenders wait in long queues for a hearing before a magistrate.
“Why are we at this stage in 2017 still wasting the court’s time in matters that could be dealt with via fixed penalties? A chap might have to leave a day’s work, go and sit down at the District ‘C’ or District ‘D’ almost for a whole day to pay a fine for $150 or $200 or whatever the fine is,” he said, stressing that in addition to lost production time, there was the judicial time used up in processing the traffic cases.
Mr Brathwaite has a point, to which we will return in a moment. However, his position has left a number of unanswered questions and an image of an attorney general without the power to influence his own Cabinet colleagues or the Prime Minister to do something about an issue we all agree is a problem.
Therefore, he must answer a few questions to help us understand why he felt it necessary to raise the issue just when the legislation was at the point of approval.
Did he not see the draft before it went to Cabinet? Did he recommend a fixed fine? If not, why? If he did, was he overruled, and by whom? Was the draft discussed in Cabinet? Did he raise the issue there? Again, was he overruled? Did the rest of Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, not think a fixed fine made sense?
There is a sense of perturbation that at a time when all and sundry speak about productivity, our legal draftsmen would not see it fit, when a new traffic law is being introduced, to include measures that will free an overburdened legal system of the more mundane matters like failing to stop completely at a stop sign.
Imagine the amount of time and money wasted prosecuting one such case, the productivity lost. A police officer, having cited a driver, must return to base to do the paper work, summons must be prepared, and someone has to be paid to serve the summons. The person might have to return again and again until the summons is delivered to the offender. Then there is the procession to and from court as the person charged is made to waste full days – productive time – in court waiting for a hearing which will likely be adjourned again and again, mostly because the police officer who cited the person in the first place fails to appear.
This scene is replayed in magistrate’s courts virtually every day in a colossal waste of time, money and productivity.
It is something that can easily be solved by enacting the necessary legislation for the installation of cameras at crucial points to catch the many drivers who rush through red lights, speed or fail to stop completely at stop signs. A ticket is sent in the mail to the offender, who is given a deadline by which to pay or face penalties that include doubling or trebling the fines and the suspension of their licences if they fail to pay after a given period. Only those who choose to challenge the ticket will go to court on the understanding that should they lose the appeal the fine will be doubled. If the fine for such a violation is no more than $100 we rather suspect most people will pay it and move on, particularly if the photographic or video evidence is presented to them along with the ticket.
This will free the courts to deal with more serious cases and save every one time and money.
True, it will be costly, but Government does not have to meet all or any the cost of setting up or monitoring the cameras. It can work with a private investor whose returns will come from a portion of the fines collected.
What therefore, is so difficult about this? Why was it not included in the amended legislation?
Throughout the course of this year we have heard that productivity, defined by Angel Gurria, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as the ultimate engine of growth in the global economy, is low.
The former Central Bank governor Dr DeLisle Worrell has warned about it; the private sector has complained about it; a recent study commissioned by the Productivity Council confirmed it, although that study looked at the impact of high taxes.
The trade unions signed a productivity pledge on May Day this year “to participate in the recovery and the growth efforts of Barbados by assisting in the implementation of productivity and development programmes, and by collaborating with Government and all Social Partners in productivity-related activities”. What have they done since?
Ironically, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs Stephen Lashley said earlier this year that Cabinet must lead the productivity drive, before he planted a tree to demonstrate his commitment. That was after the head of Cabinet, the Prime Minister, was named productivity champion. What have they done?
Our political leaders love to stage massive parades of the astonished in the grand theatre of Parliament. They scold and they admonish and they caution, and they produce volumes of platitudes, denunciations and lamentations, sufficient to fill the Royal Library of Alexandria.
However, after the show is over, nothing happens as our country sinks deeper into economic apocalypse in the age of Nero.
But it is not too late for the Prime Minister, our productivity champion, to end the high-decibel show of moral aghast by further changing the amended road traffic law to include cameras and tickets for minor traffic offenders. It is time to take a stand for productivity.