Issuing of drivers' licences should be checked
Stabroek News
January 28, 2002

Dear Editor,

Nearly two years ago a group of courageous, concerned women - Mothers In Black - initiated a campaign for reform of the country's traffic laws. These women were moved to action as a result of the wanton and reckless use of the roads by operators of motor vehicles, commercial and private, that saw the slaughter of their beloved relatives and left other persons maimed, disfigured and disabled for life.On occasion, passersby and onlookers who either did not understand the importance of what they were doing or who really did not care, hurled snide remarks in their direction. However, Mothers In Black stuck resolutely to the task even as the carnage on the road continued unabated.

It is ironic, tragic and comic that on every occasion when a new disaster takes place some little tin god at the governmental level sets out to assure the Guyanese public that they too are concerned about the situation and that the long promised legislative reforms will "shortly be forthcoming." The latest in the series of promises was reported to have been made by the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj. Some information on the proposed changes has been released in the press. I do hope that the legislation will engage Parliament's attention at its next sitting and that that sitting will be convened sooner rather than later.

However, I believe that the proposed changes in the law, welcome as they may be, have not gone for enough to address the chaos on the roads. Has any thought been given to imposing severe penalties on those officials who are found collaborating with the waiver of the conditions on which a commercial motor vehicle licence is granted?

In the past, one was required to be the holder of a driver's licence for a minimum period of two years before an application for a commercial licence could be made and entertained. This seems no longer to be the case. Some of the most glaring violations have been and continue to be committed by those drivers of commercial vehicles who had never before driven anything. If this law has been repealed consideration should be given to its immediate reintroduction as an amendment with accompanying strong penalties for violations. If it is still on the law books it should be rigidly enforced. Denying a commercial licence to a qualified person under the age of twenty-five will not resolve the problems. The authorities must ensure that the established criteria for granting licences are rigidly upheld and enforced.

I wish to issue a call here to the Commissioner of Police for an immediate investigation into the system used for granting drivers' licences over the last five years. If it is found, as I am sure it will be, that a number of persons got their licences through the back door all of those licences should be recalled without delay, and the issuers investigated.

Another aspect I would like to see addressed in the law is the question of interference in the work of those traffic ranks who carry out their tasks with the required seriousness, by "big ones" who own mini buses.Some mini bus operators commit breaches of the law with impunity. It is strongly believed that these operators are employed by senior police officers and government officials and are untouched by the law. If we are serious about wanting to stabilize the situation, these people who, by intervening on the side of violators, give encouragement and support to their actions, must be dealt with harshly by the law. But this may be expecting too much of those in control of the legislative process. I hope that maybe, just maybe, those who occupy the seats of power would want to ensure that the members of their own family units will be able to use the road safely and they will therefore be compelled to fashion the kind of legislation that will significantly improve their chances of survival. Does the legislation make any allowance for repeated offenders to undergo a period of training on the proper use of the road after conviction? I have deliberately not said a period of reorientation. This is because I know that a large number of Guyana's drivers today have never been close to an education programme that was geared to enhance their knowledge and use of the road. Too many of them have bought their licences. This is best demonstrated by the reckless abandon in which the road is used.

It is good to learn that the amended laws will also address the question of the presence of boom boxes in mini buses. Like the other amendments this is long overdue. In as much as they cater to some commuters' pleasure they are offensive to others and contribute in no small way to the creation of accidents. Some drivers could be seen paying more attention to ensuring that the decibel level is correct than to what is happening on the road. As a result they are unable to respond to emergency situations which are sometimes of their own making. I, and countless others are in complete agreement with the declared intention to remove the boom boxes.

I believe that the law should also make allowance for stiff penalties to be imposed on those policemen who, for a price, condone and support the reckless use of the road by road hogs. Every aspect of this crisis has to be examined and dealt with if normalcy is to be returned to the roads. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to what is taking place. We must be resolved to speak frankly to the issues and take whatever steps are necessary.

If ever the traffic laws are reformed to the people's satisfaction the exercise will be seen as one in futility, once the police are not provided with the equipment - motor cycles, patrol cars etc; - in order to ensure that the roads are constantly monitored. The crisis on the roads cannot and will not be effectively dealt with by simply passing legislation and carrying out the occasional police campaign. The mere presence of the police on the roads will serve to act as a deterrent to the lawless. However, in order to be effective that presence has to be maintained continuously. Anything less than this is guaranteed to keep Mothers In Black on the streets a decade from now, pleading to the altars of the mighty and powerful for relief.Finally, I want to call on all Members of Parliament not to let this opportunity to deal objectively with the problem pass you by. It may not have been politically expedient for you to stand with Mothers in Black, but please use the occasion provided by the debate on the proposed traffic law reforms to record your strong displeasure with what is taking place. Take the bull by the horns and propose amendments to the legislation in areas that you believe it should be strengthened. Remember, today it's somebody else's relative; tomorrow it could be yours.

Yours faithfully,

Desmond Trotman