BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor — publications firstname.lastname@example.org
A taxi driver who operates in rural Jamaica owes the Government more than $3 million after he accumulated a total of 1,091 traffic tickets and 1,460 demerit points against his licence over four years, the Jamaica Observer has learnt.
Details of the driver's delinquency emerged late last week as the tax authorities closed a six-month amnesty on unpaid traffic tickets and the head of the police traffic division, Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis, warned that motorists who did not make use of the amnesty will not be allowed to escape paying the fines.
According to Lewis, the taxi driver, who operated between Clarendon, Manchester and St Elizabeth received the tickets between 2006 and 2010.
"We have gone to his house in Manchester on many occasions, but have not found him," Lewis told the Sunday Observer. "We got information as recent as five months ago about a location in Manchester. When we went there, the people living there were not connected to that man. We don't know if him dead or not, or if him gone underground."
Explaining how that driver and others ended up with multiple traffic tickets, Lewis said that previously, there was no connectivity between the computers at the courts, Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ), the police, and the Island Traffic Authority.
"People used to pay their traffic fines, but because the computers were not speaking to each other, the data was not updated in the court system. So when the tickets were taken to court, warrants were issued for the persons deemed to be delinquent," Lewis said.
He explained that when the error was discovered in 2010, judges stopped issuing warrants for accused traffic offenders.
"As a result of that, the hoodlums in the public transport system took advantage of that deficiency because they were of the opinion that nothing would come up again. So that was what caused them to owe so much," Lewis added.
Motorists with multiple tickets were among thousands who flooded tax collectorates last week in a last-minute rush to catch the amnesty. The Government had projected that it would earn $2 billion from unpaid traffic tickets. However, at the end of the amnesty last week the national security ministry said they had collected almost $340 million, with more than 60 per cent of that amount coming in on December 31, the last day of the amnesty.
But with many motorists still unable to settle their outstanding fines, or clear their names from the delinquency column, Lewis announced a grace period up to January 21.
"Get your houses in order or face prosecution," Lewis said last Wednesday. "There will be no holding back at the end of this period."
At the same time, National Security Minister Peter Bunting said that his ministry, TAJ and the courts would update their databases to determine the accuracy of motorists' claims that they had no outstanding fines.
Late last week when the Sunday Observer asked SSP Lewis whether it was likely that motorists could lose their driver's licences due to multiple tickets and demerit points he said he could not yet speak to that.
The data, he said, must first be checked to determine whether there were other motorists, like the Manchester taxi driver, with enough demerit points to warrant such action.
Under the Traffic Ticketing System, demerit points are assigned against a motorist's driver's licence once the person is either convicted or found liable of certain traffic offences, among them going through red lights, overtaking at pedestrian crossings, disobeying stop signs and stop signals, and driving without a seat belt.
When the motorist accumulates 10 points or more, but less than 14, his/her driver's licence is suspended for six months.
Driver's licences are suspended for a year when motorists accumulate 14 points or more, but less than 20, while a two-year suspension is imposed upon the accumulation of 20 points.
Demerit points are eventually expunged from a motorist's record when he/she does not acquire any additional points for three years after the last points were recorded.
Last week, SSP Lewis said that a new Traffic Ticket Management System has been introduced and will streamline the data across all arms of the State.
"You can't joke with this new system," he said and reiterated an earlier warning that any motorist who did not take advantage of the amnesty will be prosecuted.
"These monies must be paid," he emphasised, even as he pointed out that the sentence for non-payment is six months.
"A man who owe, for argument sake, 600 or 700 tickets, may plan to go to court and plead guilty and serve six months. If that is known to us, then we have to use a different strategy, which is within the law, which is to execute one at a time. There is nothing in law that says I must execute all 700 one time. If you owe 700 tickets you're going to serve 350 years. All we have to do is make arrangements with the correctional service to contact us when this man is going to be released. So the money has to be paid," Lewis said.
"People in Jamaica don't honour revenue, but that is what runs the country," he added. "That is what runs America, England, Canada, the whole world. We must pay our taxes."
Lewis also suggested that a similar approach should be taken for the collection of land taxes.
"If a man don't pay him land tax, you take away the land and sell it and clear up the taxes," he said.