Road safety - once again Frankly Speaking...
Stabroek News
November 23, 2001

I will be brief, terse and to the point. We have to commend highly, the Mothers in Black. For much more than one year they have been doggedly persistent in keeping to the forefront of national attention, the dire dimensions of road traffic mayhem and its consequences in this small-sized society of limited human resources.

If their weekly Friday midday vigils outside Parliament have been admirable, even inspirational, they have however had a seemingly minimal effect on the Government in that at one time they were told by a Minister that the current legislation dealing with traffic offences was "adequate" and only needed to be enforced. Nonsense! I agree with the bit about enforcement but in these changed, lawless times how could any senior knowledgeable official defend all of the current legislation as adequate?

Now come the "consultations" to invite proposals, from the wider society, to revise, enhance and make more appropriate, the same old outdated traffic laws and their penalties. I attended the first one convened in Georgetown last Friday. It is not that the session was not useful. Worthy suggestions were indeed forthcoming. But I sided quietly with the Mothers-in-Black representative when, impatiently, she told the Home Affairs Minister, his Police Commissioner and the entire gathering, that really, the authorities already knew just what traffic laws needed to be toughened by amendment or revision and which new legislation was needed urgently. "Story done". Even the Minister's comments suggested that he was aware and she was accurate. But "democratic consultations" it must be.

Of all the ideas and recommendations arising from last Friday - from new legislation regarding Radar Guns, Breathalysers, Seat Belts, Street Lighting, Bus Drivers' Licensing and Points or Drivers Merit System to the consideration of the more mechanical aspects having to do with the structural make-up of vehicles and types of tyres - I was intrigued by one startling fact I always only suspected but which was revealed: that there is really no provision in our laws for anything known as mini-buses and technically, all mini-buses are breaking other existing laws! What a country! No need for new legislation!?

Which brings me to my usual observation: the lawlessness on our roads - including the too numerous incidents of motor-vehicle murder - known as "causing death" - is but an extension, a manifestation of the utter disregard for authority in this society generally. The legacy and culture of lawlessness and defiance, exhibited by the young, the ignorant, the new rich, the protester-class, the well-connected, and the illiterate merely has another outlet when these types can afford to have some vehicle in their hands. No Traffic Chief, no regulation, no road sign can influence the behaviour of some mindless brutes. It does not mean that our Traffic Educators and our Police Enforcement Officers must not try, however. Actually, it is in the national interest that we all help them to succeed.

My own two new laws

Even as I encourage all those available to join the Mothers-In-Black this noon outside Parliament, I share with you my earnest desire to see two new radical laws introduced now. Dangerous, indisciplined times call for radical, surgically-innovative measures. Yes, even draconian!

I've studied, contemplated the seemingly unfair implications but I contend that to counter the mini-bus lawlessness, by both the operators and the passengers and to coerce responsibility my proposals should be crafted and introduced.

Simply put, I suggest that if and when police find mini-buses speeding and/or overloaded, every passenger should be fined along with the two operators. Bet you that in a short time, twelve or thirteen passengers will not allow two operators to bully them or to break those two laws. The outrage and outcry by passengers will usher in responsibility and respect for the law.

O.K. I know the loopholes which might be created - unfair policemen; ignorant tyrants for drivers and conductors and yes, stupid, immature irresponsible school-age commuters. I still say: educate them, then fine them. Try these two new laws please!!

Carl - the career criminal

Perhaps strangely, I found myself agreeing with our government on the issue of the residual rights of those Guyana-born, American-bred deportees. Were they really sent back with just the clothes on their backs?

Years ago when earlier deportees were returned, I wrote about a fellow who chose crime as a career - and why. I share the piece again.

Carlie at twenty-eight, has already chalked up thirty-two convictions for petty crimes, including indecent language, resisting arrest, threatening behaviour and three more serious street crimes like robbery with aggravation. Carlie, however, has made up his mind that his life's future would be that of a "career criminal".

You see, Carlie has been "lucky" in crime so far. For all his convictions more than his age - he has spent just a total of seventeen (17) prison months in the Georgetown jail and "open prisons" the authorities had experimented with, at Hope Estate and Lusignan on the East Coast. Additionally, you could say that the reasonably-intelligent Carlie had honed to a fine art, the skill of being a "model prisoner" every time he happened to be sentenced to his short stints. Many reductions in length of time were his

Frankly speaking, Carlie has also made a keen study of how seemingly stacked against the victim and the innocent our legal system is. He realises how great the onus is on the prosecution to prove that he, Carlie, is guilty every time he is caught. He realises that his misguidedly proud seaman Godfather, who raised him - seems always to engage the better lawyers in Georgetown to defend him. Carlie studies these attorneys at work and always concludes with a smirk, that most times they are superior to the out-classed police officers and young, recently-trained lawyers who must prosecute.

Actually, Carlie marvels at how our society lauds and feels indebted to lawyers generally. After all, it is touted that these are the folks who specialise in upholding the rule of law in our State, they ensure that their professional colleagues - on the bench - dispense justice. Carlie smiles. When many legal practitioners "get the call", they even become judges, tribunes, arbiters, politicians, ministers and presidents! And I won't write here what Carlie knows about a few magistrates. I can't impugn anyone's integrity as I may well find myself in front of one of them some day. It's just that Carlie the Criminal is wise about these things.

And Carlie reads! He gleefully reads about the reactions of Human Rights groups and Civil Rights lawyers when, say, magistrates in Guyana or Trinidad order floggings or whippings for dangerous and convicted robbers (who might have half-killed their pregnant victims); he reads about the calls to abolish the "inhuman" death penalty. Carlie studies the numerous accounts of case-files missing; witnesses failing to turn up; confessions deemed not to be free and voluntary, and the legal gymnastics that end invariably with "case dismissed". Yes, Carlie - and a few hundred like him - likes our brand of "justice". That's why Carlie and his following have decided to remain career criminals! (Let's now study our laws!)

Until ....

1) I sincerely regret not attending the farewell service for Vic Forsythe. Harry Harewood and I followed him at the GIS twenty-two years ago. Funnily, I preferred Vic's work when we did the PNC's Public Relations for their "victorious" elections campaigns. Now Vic will join Harry and Gwen Parris somewhere peaceful.

2) And after twenty-two years something good is happening at the old Bettencourts site in downtown Georgetown. Something for the vendors?

3) Also, to the middle of Aubrey Barker Street in the capital, development is at last happening on the broad reserves. Further east along the same Aubrey Barker, the squatter development is also coming along fine.

`Til next week!