More to controlling chaos

It’s a wearying habit of government leaders, and the public bureaucracy, to announce supposedly transformative initiatives that come to naught, which are then repackaged, only to achieve similar outcomes.

This time, hopefully, Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ promise to bring order to Jamaica’s chaotic public spaces, including reining in undisciplined taxi drivers, comes true.

Addressing his party’s annual conference on Sunday, Mr Holness homed in on the disorder caused especially by jostling taxis and other road users and warned of a zero-tolerance approach to law enforcement, starting in the new year. “…There can be no prosperity in chaos and disorder,” the prime minister said.

Mr Holness is hinging his expectations for changed outcomes on a new Road Traffic Act that steeply increases fines for traffic offences, giving greater power to law-enforcement officials, and, as the PM pointed out, allows for the use of “smart technology” to monitor and capture breaches. He had already advised the police chief, Mr Holness said, about rigidly enforcing the law.

Upgraded legislation, allowing for the admissibility of technologies that are commonly used in other jurisdictions in detecting traffic offences, is not a bad thing. But this newspaper, like, we expect, most Jamaicans, does not believe that the absence of these provisions is the main cause of the impunity with which taxis and buses operate in urban centres across the island, especially the critical commercial districts of Half-Way Tree, Cross Roads, and the downtown areas of the capital.

Indeed, Prime Minister Holness would have been aware in August that the new law, though passed by Parliament, was not yet being enforced. Yet, he and his Cabinet summoned the police chief, Major General Antony Anderson, and the then head of the constabulary’s Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB), the Rev Dr Gary Welsh, to lecture them on the Government’s zero-tolerance to law enforcement in the wake of Dr Welsh’s mild reprimand of a motorist whose stunt-driving antics had gone viral and his admission of leniency to scores of traffic offenders over a three-week period.

Dr Welsh soon lost his job, to be replaced by another policeman with a PhD, Kevin Blake. We can’t claim to have noticed any appreciable change, at least for the better, in respect for the law by motorists, especially taxi and bus drivers, in the three months since Dr Blake’s appointment.

Neither have we observed, in the 18 months of its existence, that the PSTEB has done much, if anything, to improve the way how motorists use the roads or to reduce chaos in public spaces, which was its declared mandate when Commissioner Anderson merged the police motorised patrol and traffic and highway divisions. Indeed, with their distinctive green motorcycles and helmets, PSTEB patrols, we were told, would be ubiquitous in key urban centres, enforcing the law.

Or, as Commissioner Anderson said at the time: “The new branch should benefit the public through increased police presence and improved effectiveness in public spaces and thoroughfares; reduce incidences of traffic collisions, injuries, and fatalities; [and] improve public trust and confidence in the police.”

Perhaps, as he contemplates what seems to be a reset by Prime Minister Holness, the police chief should offer a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the performance of the PSTEB, whether the goals have been achieved and what may have been his constraints.

We would suggest that the chaos about which Mr Holness complained is not only the failure of policing, but also of the inability, due to the bureaucracy, to get small things done, and to conflate declarations and pronouncements with actions.

Take mayor of Kingston and chairman of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, Delroy Williams, whose declared ambition is to make his city “the capital of the Caribbean, the pearl of the Antilles, and a major player on the Latin American landscape”.

Yet, in his state of cognitive hibernation, Mr Williams presides over a city where islands, with mini forests, emerge in paved gully courses, verges are overgrown, and ficus trees, in the vicinity of his office, rather than being pruned, grow with abandon, becoming entangled with utility lines.

In Half-Way Tree, once pristine kiosks, donated to vendors by a private firm, have grown shabby, rickety stalls abound, huckstering is unregulated, and walls and sidewalks are rank with urine, the stench having re-emerged after a hosing down by the Fire Brigade a long year ago.

Discipline and order is not only about policing. It is also doing small things that help people to want to maintain and uphold their own sense of decency. (Jamaica Gleaner)

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