Medicinal penalties and side effects

Michael BURKE

Thursday, June 12, 2014

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ROMAN Catholic canon law speaks to medicinal penalties for certain offences, meaning that the penalties should 'heal' the transgressor from errant ways and bring about a resolution to turn away from sin. I imagine that in the civil sphere, traffic penalties are supposed to be 'medicinal'. But many times the penalties are not medicinal at all. What they are more likely to do is to encourage corruption, which is perhaps the major side effect of most punitive measures.

In January 2003, I wrote in my regular column that the stiffer the penalties imposed by the Government for traffic offences, the higher the bribes corrupt police will seek. I even had occasion to speak face to face with P J Patterson, who was then prime minister, and told him the same thing. Clearly such advice has either been ignored or forgotten as once again we have stiffer penalties for traffic offences. I imagine that, in any case, the Government has no choice, given the conditionalities of the International Monetary Fund.

But, if there is widespread corruption among traffic police, then how much money that should come from traffic tickets ever reach the country's coffers? We really should do everything that is possible to eliminate police harassment and corruption. This is why, for instance, I argue that the law against public displays of homosexuality should be strengthened, but not the private acts between consenting adults, because it only leads to blackmail, one of the worst forms of corruption.

And, by the way, we all suffer the consequences of blackmail either directly or indirectly. If politicians who hold power are being blackmailed, we all suffer by the wrong decisions they might make if blackmailed, just as we do if politicians give into the corruption of bribery. Indeed, anything that creates opportunity for corruption in the police force should be organised in such a way to lessen it.

This is why I argue that Parliament should remove the 'bad word' law, as it only increases the opportunity for bribery.

By this, I am not advocating "slack" talk, all am stating is that it is an issue about good manners, which should be taught at home. Laws are there to curtail the unfair inconvenience of citizens by others. But the "bad word" law only increases police harassment.

With regard to traffic offences, the people who suffer the most are the taximen and the illegal 'robots'. As this coming Sunday is Father's Day, I recall that more than 95 per cent of our taxi drivers and bus drivers are men and fathers. It is not right that people are forced to dodge the police to support their children.

And, many of the 'robot' drivers are among the best fathers in Jamaica. Perhaps they are the best of a bad lot, but most of them do what they do to support their children. In addition, they are helping the economy by working and not being a burden to society. More importantly, they are helping the economy by getting the population to work and school.

Most of our taximen and 'robots' survive by institutionalised bribery. The corrupt police know their cars many times by a signal given. And taximen survive by keeping each other informed as to the location of the traffic police. Why should grown people be forced to do this in a society that we want to believe is civilised?

As we approach Father's Day, I make a call once again for the December 26 holiday to be changed to Family Day. It is a time when families get together anyway. And it would be a way of removing the derogatory term, Boxing Day, a day when the second hand things and the leftovers of the Christmas dinner were boxed up and given to servants.

Apart from Father's Day, a public holiday as a family day would allow us not only to get together as families, but also look at what parents are forced to do to make a living for their families. On family day we could once again look at the way in which corruption has been institutionalised and how this affects the growth of families.

The problem here is that the Family Day proposal has not gained enough traction for politicians to do something about it. In democratic societies politicians respond only to those issues that can gain or lose votes for them. This has always been the case, as the abolition of the old, rotten borough system in England will tell with respect to the abolition of slavery.

It was not until all of the adult citizens of England had a vote, and slavery having been considered inhumane by the influence of the Quakers, did the British Parliament abolish slavery. Of course, the upper classes in England were also convinced that paying a servant a weekly wage was far more economical to the employer than in supporting a slave. Of course, it did not exactly turn out that way, but that is another story.

More important, Family Day would be a good time to emphasise good upbringing. In a country that has a strong history of piracy, and in which it became instutionalised in a sophisticated way after the pirate Henry Morgan was made governor, such training is needed. When Morgan was made governor, he sold land cheaply to pirates and they became aristocrats. This is where corruption in Jamaica became institutionalised.

In recent times, we have been told that the Ministry of Education has organised the textbooks on the curriculum in such a way that there would be no duplication of books. This, of course, is most welcome because of the corruption that formerly took place with regard to textbooks. People who wanted to sell books, however inadequate, would simply get their friends to include their book on a booklist.

So, even in the matter of textbooks before the new regulations, punishing a child for not having a textbook as a medicinal penalty could have had the side effect of corruption. This is because insistence meant that the student would have to buy the book and support the corruption of the less than adequate textbooks. So we are to believe that all of this will stop soon, and we give the Ministry of Education the benefit of doubt.




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