The threat to democracy when governance loses credibilityMonday, November 08, 2021
We can't disagree with a recent assessment of the Jamaican legislature by Mr Mikael Phillips, Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western.
Said he: “There is no way that you can say that the Parliament is working when you have one law waiting to be enacted for three years…”
He was referring to the delay of three years, and still counting, in implementation of the new Road Traffic Act which was passed by both Houses of Parliament in 2018 with a view to bringing order to Jamaican roads and reducing death and injury.
That delay results from the failure so far to bring to Parliament for approval the appropriate regulations which must accompany the new law.
The situation formed the critical backdrop to last Friday's emergency sitting of the House of Representatives followed by a Senate sitting.
The governing Jamaica Labour Party used its majority to push through amendments to the old Road Traffic Act to protect the Government from legal action which some reports say could cost taxpayers dearly.
A report in this newspaper explained Saturday that, “The Road Traffic Amendment Validation and Indemnity Act (2021) seeks to amend the Road Traffic Act (1938) to include penalties that were established in 2006 and 2007 by provisional tax orders signed by then Finance Minister Dr Omar Davies. The Bill increases the range of fixed penalties… and could protect the Government from having to pay out monies to motorists who had been overcharged in traffic fines since 2006.”
This followed an injunction in the Supreme Court restraining the Government from imposing fixed penalties provided for under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act.
The trigger was a class action suit against the Attorney General and the commissioner of police by a citizen, Mr Maurice Housen. The latter sued after he received a speeding ticket under the old Road Traffic Act. He contended that the charge should have been $800, based on the 1938 Act, and not $5,000.
Opposition Members of Parliament argued Friday that, rather than rush through, 'Nicodemus' style, amendments to the old law aimed at indemnifying itself, the Government should be seeking to implement the new Road Traffic Act (2018).
We note that both Transport Minister Mr Robert Montague and the Leader of Government Business in the Senate Mrs Kamina Johnson Smith said the delay in completing the regulations was the result of extremely technical and complex issues.
However, we recall that in 2018 Mrs Johnson Smith had promised that the regulations would be completed within a few months.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Andrew Holness ordered that the regulations should be completed by the end of 2021. This is November, so we expect that to happen within weeks.
We shouldn't need Mr Phillips to remind us that the approach shouldn't only be about protecting and raising revenues; most importantly, it should be about protecting road users from death and injury.
Beyond that, this situation underlines why many Jamaicans are so disgusted with governance they refuse to participate in the political process. That, we believe, is the main reason fewer than 40 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote in parliamentary elections 14 months ago.
Our leaders need to understand that, as governance loses credibility, so too our prized democracy comes under threat.