Traffic ticket system in tatters; agencies blame each other
Members of the public stand in line at a tax office in the Corporate Area.
Despite a number of traffic ticket amnesties, threats to lock up delinquent motorists at ‘Red Fence’ at Up Park Camp and a new Road Traffic Act with hefty fines for traffic breaches slated to come into effect in March, a picture of a ticketing system in tatters was presented to Parliament on Wednesday.
So grave is the situation that judges are reluctant to issue summonses for persons to be brought before the courts because they cannot trust the data, a parliamentary committee was told.
Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) was also told that there was a huge gap between the roughly 309,000 outstanding traffic tickets in the database of the Ministry of National Security and that of the Ministry of Justice which contains just under 100,000 tickets.
This revelation was much to the consternation of committee members who were hearing from officials of the ministries of national security and justice as well as the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PTSEB) and Tax Administration Jamaica. Some committee members were concerned that the current system will not be able to cope once the new Road Traffic Act takes effect in less than two months time.
Permanent Secretary in the ministry of national security, Dianne McIntosh told the committee that 77 per cent of the outstanding tickets have in fact been paid. However, this is not properly reflected in the Traffic Ticket Management System (TTMS).
Responding to the disclosure by McIntosh, opposition spokesman on transport, Mikhail Phillips said: “It makes no sense that we bring a new Act into being where the penalties are much greater than what exists now because I have a concern (about) the discrepancies (in) the numbers between …what the ministry of national security gave and what the courts have given…”
There was some amount of a blame game on Wednesday as no agency or department seems willing to accept responsibility for the inefficiencies in the system.
Head of the PTSEB, Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen told the committee that a driver who recently passed away had 600 outstanding tickets against his name. Allen suggested that situations like these arise because of a lack of authorizing officers in the courts which creates delays in the prosecution of delinquent motorists.
Not so, said Carol Palmer, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, who sought to place the ball back in the court of the police. According to Palmer, “the judiciary has long had problems with the ticketing system.”
“It’s not a simple fix of an authorizing officer. That’s a band aid for what the court needs because what we have is traffic ticketing system that meets the needs of the police and it does not meet the needs of the courts,” Palmer stated.
SSP Allen sought to further distance the traffic department from weaknesses in the system. He said once his officers hand over their copy of the traffic ticket at the data-entry office, it is up to the data-entry clerks to upload the tickets on the system.
"Once it is uploaded, then our other stakeholder agencies, such as the Ministry of Finance and Tax Administration Jamaica, are able to interface with it,” Allen said.
Meanwhile, Allen also told the PAAC that in excess of four million tickets with a price tag of $8 billion were issued by the police over the past eight years. Some 56 per cent of that number, or 2.2 million tickets, valued at $4.2 billion, have been paid up. Another 1.2 million tickets, worth $2.4 billion, are still before the court.
Committee members also wanted to know how hundreds of motorists managed to ignore nearly 90 per cent of the over 65,000 traffic tickets issued by the police in the first half of 2018 without any consequences.
According to senior court statistician in the justice ministry, Dr Denarto Dennis, there are deficits in the accuracy and adequacy of the updates made to the TTMS and transmitted to the court system. He told the PAAC that in a number of cases, data that may or may not have been updated at the revenue collection agencies is not adequately reflected in the TTMS and within the courts.
"Such gaps in the data have resulted in judges exercising due caution in issuing warrants as there have been a number of instances where warrants have been issued for persons who show up for court with proof that they actually paid their tickets," Dennis disclosed.
He explained further that the TTMS “is not a system that in its current form allows for efficient tracking of cases and their statuses, meaning, whether a matter is active, inactive, or disposed of.”