The Government’s proposed changes to the Road Traffic Act have become the latest target for a severe tongue-lashing by Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn.
The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2018 is a tax grab and akin to putting lipstick on a pig, he declared.
As the Upper Chamber debated the measure sent up from the House of Assembly, Senator Franklyn said the bill, which will abolish the road tax and replace it with a fuel tax, was not properly thought out and was merely sprung on the country with little opportunity for wide public debate.
“This is a bill where Government wants to get some money and they want to get it fast, and you throw in another few amendments to make it look like you are not just doing a little thing. The amendments were not properly thought out. These amendments were just a little dressing . . . but you know when you put lipstick on a pig, you still got a pig,” the outspoken Opposition Senator told the chamber.
Franklyn suggested that having not given the Senate and the nation enough time to evaluate the changes, that the Government would soon be forced to return to the legislature seeking approval for even more amendments.
Also branding the measure as a money-grabbing Bill with 38 “unsubstantive” amendments, the Senator said it does not address a number of problems in urgent need of repair.
Although the road tax has been abolished and replaced with a fuel levy, a car owner was now paying $936 a year to fill his car compared to $400 in road tax, said Senator Franklyn.
“It is a tax grab. It making more money. Mind you, Government must learn from experience that when they put the private sector to collect Government revenue they don’t get it. So they might even get less money coming in from this tax than they were getting from the road tax, because, just like VAT, [value added tax] you don’t get 50 per cent of the money that is collected at VAT. So I warn you, you could have stayed where you were even if you wanted to carry it up another $50, I wouldn’t mind,” he said.
Franklyn, who is also head of the Unity Workers Union, said he did not believe the Government’s reasons for introducing the changes to the Road Traffic Act.
“If it was just supposed to ensure that people paid their road tax . . . just like how you are doing for the insurance by putting a sticker on the licence plate, you could have put a sticker on the licence plate to show that the road tax was paid. That is why I say I don’t believe [the reasons behind the bill.] Don’t treat the country like we foolish, like we can’t understand things,” he declared.
He also asked why the Government taxed the lighting and cooking fuel kerosene if the fuel charge was designed to replace the road tax.
“A lot of old people cook with kerosene. So if that was supposed to replace the road tax, that means you paying road tax on a stove and I have never seen any stove pass me on the road. I drive slowly and one of two of them would have passed me on the road. It is no replacing road tax. You are going after people’s money and you are deceiving people,” said the trade union leader.
Another aspect of the bill of concern to the Opposition Senator is the definition of commercial vehicle, which did not make sense to him, he suggested.
“A commercial vehicle now is a vehicle that you use for hire or for reward or something like this. So if I have a container truck and I don’t hook it up to nothing, I can drive bout a container truck as my private vehicle. The road tax was designed and the bigger vehicles pay more because they did more damage to the roads.”
He railed against another aspect of governance of the nation’s roads recalling the so-called jambuster traffic flow measure at roundabouts.
“Years ago, you had ZR men and mini busmen who do [what] they like on the road. Passing you at roundabouts, passing you on the inside and we couldn’t get them stopped
. . . . The [police] ain’t holding them; when they get before the courts, the magistrates’ cases so long . . . taking years before they get to court. So what Government did? Government then legislated that you can now do that foolishness and called it ‘jambuster’,” Franklyn suggested.
He claimed that the Government was again introducing legislation to allow public service vehicle (PSV) operators to breach the law.
As minibuses carried seating capacity of 11 to 24 seats and ZRs a maximum of 15, owners would “put additional seats in the vehicles and drive all about the place every day with them”, removing the seats for inspection just before annual registration, then “drive around the corner, put back in the seats; and Government believes that is something that they should encourage,” he said.
The Opposition Senator declared that the Mia Mottley Administration was now increasing the seating capacity again in this proposed legislation because the owners have decided, ‘I putting in more seats and wunnah can’t stop me’.”