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General News Sat, 19 Jul 2008

Police should not use drivers' pockets as banks

Accra, July 19, GNA - Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr Kwame Osei-Prempeh, has cautioned law enforcement agents to be wary of extortion of monies from road traffic offenders as Parliament passed the Road Traffic Amendment Bill.

He said the 90 per cent reduction in penalties for road traffic offences under the amended law should make offending road users pay their penalties to the state rather than diverting them into individual pockets of some law enforcement officers to avoid prosecution. The object of the Bill, which Parliament passed before it rose for recess on Friday, is to reduce the number of penalty units for each motor traffic offence to 10 per cent of the penalty units specified in the Road Traffic Act, Act 683 of 2004.

Thus, an offence attracting 100 penalty units (GHC 1,200) will now attract 10 penalty units (GHC 120).

Also, prison sentences for motor traffic offences in the parent act have been reduced considerably by one third. Mr Osei-Prempeh said most drivers and road users' inability to pay fines paved way for bribery of police and other law enforcement agents and this had further led to more people being sent to jail over minor offences to exacerbate the problems of already overcrowded prisons. He said the huge fines contained in the original law in 2004 had not necessarily decreased road traffic accidents even though the fines as then provided in Act 683 were intended to serve as deterrent to curb the level of indiscipline on the roads of Ghana.

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"However, instead of the fine serving as a deterrent, it was so exorbitant that it rather created an avenue for some drivers to pay bribes to some law enforcement officers to avoid prosecution. This defeated the purpose for which the Road Traffic Act, 2004 (Act 683) was enacted," Report of Committee on Roads and Transport said. The Report also said the Road Traffic Amendment Bill would not create any vacuum in the parent Act, as the number of penalty units for offences specified in the Schedule of the referral is consistent with the number of penalty units for the same offences specified in the original act.

The Committee viewed the reduction in prison sentences as a step in the right direction to compel offenders to pay fines rather than being imprisoned.

Mr Osei-Prempeh said the President was worried about the number of person that languished in jail for traffic offences. Also, there have been calls by the public to the Chief Justice to temper justice with mercy in meting out punishment to road traffic offenders. He urged drivers to educate themselves on the law to avoid being taken advantage of by some law enforcements agents. "If any police officer takes money from any driver, the driver should find a way to take his or her number and report that officer to the Ministry of Justice. Mr Osei-Prempeh promised that his outfit would team up with the transport owners' associations and drivers' unions to get drivers and other road users educated on the amended bill. 19 July 08

Source: GNA
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