Road fatalities up by 30%
- Lewis acknowledges bribery infiltrating police force

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
May 17, 1999

A 30 per cent increase in road fatalities compared to last year has been described as critical and Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis is calling on the public to get involved in the reduction of accidents.

Addressing police ranks and invitees at the opening of a traffic seminar at the Police Officers Mess, Eve Leary yesterday morning, Lewis said that so far this year there have been 65 road deaths compared to 50 last year. "This is a horrible figure by any stroke", he said.

Road fatality figures over the past five years were 136 in 1994; 166 in 1995; 154 in 1996; 151 in 1997 and 154 in 1998.

Lewis said that for every person killed four or five persons are affected. In addition, some of the persons killed may have held positions critical to organisations. Those affected would have been hit not only by the loss of a person but by costs incurred through hospitalisation and funeral expenses.

Even though he has not done any work on how Guyana stands in comparison with the rest of the world, he said that the fatality rate is "pretty high."

On an average, he said, there are about 540 serious accidents in the country each year. Every two days there are three serious accidents. The total number of persons injured each year averages 1,620. Some remain in wheelchairs. The total number of accidents is just a little less than 10 each day countrywide. Georgetown, he said, accounts for most of the accidents.

Pointing out he had been able to cut down on crime in spite of what the media say by setting up an Impact Advisory Committee, Lewis now proposes to set up a similar body to advise on the traffic situation. This body will consist of policemen and civilians and will meet monthly to look at the type and causes of accidents, he said. It will target areas of concern which contribute to accidents in a massive way. He has invited the Guyana Road Safety Association and other social partners to participate. The aim, he said, is to reduce accidents, deaths by accident, speeding, noise nuisance in mini-buses and improve law enforcement.

To emphasise the point that "we have to do things in order to bring back control" to the traffic situation, Lewis said that the traffic situation is "sheer madness" and in some instances "has to be met with madness".

He noted that one of the contributory factors is the "bribe" but he added that the issue of why people "take and give bribes" must be looked at seriously. People, he noted take bribes in some instances because of their own economic condition and people give bribes because they want to get way from situations that face them. This is what the police force is faced with and has to now deal with, he said.

Lewis noted that the salaries of policemen are low and acknowledged that bribery is infiltrating the force. In dealing with this issue, he said that the Police Force introduced an incentive programme three times a year but it has not helped the situation. "The emolument is so low that the bribe becomes an attractive option both to those who give and those who receive", he said.

He has described the policeman's bribe as a `towel' meaning a $1,000 or a `fry rice'. Owners of Chinese restaurants, he said contribute to the situation but he cannot get the Chinese restaurant owners to admit to any impropriety.

He added that when bribery becomes an attractive option those wishing to manage it have the devil's own job. "You have to appeal to their morality and all the issues and those who control the purse strings." You have to ask if those who control the purse strings are serious about the situation on hand and if they are serious about the crime situation in the country.

He contended that policemen find themselves in a vicious cycle where to get increased salaries there has to be greater production but production is not on the increase. So the vicious cycle has to be broken at some stage or the other, he said suggesting that "you can break it by an inflow of finances coming from some external agency and paying back over some long-term basis. This will motivate people to greater production".

In terms of dealing with traffic offences, Lewis invited participants at the seminar to look at the issue of law reform and legislation noting that there was no way the police could execute their duties efficiently with archaic laws in place. One example of this was the $150 traffic ticket being issued for minor traffic offences. Because the fines are too lenient and in most cases are not paid, policemen would take offenders to the police station and let them wait hopefully to deter them from committing similar offences in future.

Lewis is also suggesting that, with some training, parents too can help with traffic around schools. Other issues, he has invited participation in are traffic congestion, accidents at all levels and enforcement of the laws.

He announced that another area in which the law will be strictly enforced is the noise nuisance scourge. In another couple of weeks, he said, he plans to look more seriously at this issue.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples