Mahama Must Stop the Spot Fine Madness

Fri, 10 May 2013 Source: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Mahama Must Stop the Spot Fine Madness: Kill it Permanently!!!

If Ghana is a democracy, it must honor the separation of powers. Should the police play the role of accuser, prosecutor, judge and jury at the same time? Should the right to deny guilt and appeal, be sacrificed in the name of expediency? Does the proposed spot fine system violate the separation of powers? A police man pulls you over for a traffic infraction. Right there and then, he or she issues you a fine and you are supposed to cough up the money? What if you disagree with the charge? What if that rusty Laser or Radar gun has not been calibrated lately? What if the Laser gun actually malfunctioned? Whatever happened to having your day in court? Are we really assuming that, a spot fine system by the incurably corrupt police force will work in Ghana? Good luck! This spot fine effort is clearly a ceding or usurpation of power and an affront to the concept of checks and balances. We have to permanently stop this canard now!! And please don’t tell me about Regulation 157 or LI 2180. I believe they ought to be challenged in the Supreme Court. Stop the madness now!!

Every system is designed to address a need or needs. Here, the need(s) identified by the police are: to punish offenders, increase compliance, reduced indiscipline and improve safety. I can guarantee you that spot fines have very little to do with addressing these needs. Spot fines are a wrong solution to the listed challenges. We have a grave lack of compliance and indiscipline because the police and our court system are both arrantly corrupt and ineffective. This proposed spot fine system, will fall into the same disarray, if the corruption and incompetence does not stop. In addition, the lack of adequate roads to meet our transportation needs is forcing drivers to engage in reckless behaviors. When you cage human beings in a decrepit system, they behave like animals. Drivers ride the shoulders because of long persisting traffic delays. They also know that the worst that can happen to them is bribe extortion by the police. Improving our roads will reduce this problem significantly. For example, if the Spintex road in Accra is expanded into a 2 or 3 lane road each way, all the madness on that road will subside. Spot fine will not stop drivers from riding the shoulders just as the death penalty does not stop murders. Spot the madness and stop the fines!

The police have a responsibility to enforce our laws. They don't have the right to impose fines, whether on the spot or elsewhere. The police can write you up for an offence but that is as far as it should get. They should not be in the business of determining guilt, amount of fine, and number of points. This is outside the scope of their constitutional mission. In the name of expediency, we must not create a police state and sacrifice our democracy. Our frustration with the current system of traffic justice must not push us to accept any ill-conceived system that will visit havoc on the motorist. Problems with the current system include a lack of enforcement and corruption. If we create a new system that is not enforced, we will be back to square one. If the current system is under pressure, set up more self sustaining (revenue-generating) traffic courts. After all, a system is as good as the people that run it. Notice that, majority of the countries referenced as examples of spot fine users are western democracies with computerized motor vehicle licensing systems and very little corruption. I doubt if Malawi and Gambia, are model examples of spot fine systems. Read the Global Integrity report on Malawi and you will understand why it would consider embracing the suppressing spot fine scheme.

I find the need to use this scheme as a money making machine for the government despicable. Revenues generated from this scheme, if poured into the general fund, will only encourage politicians to ride in more SUVs and live large. What I will support is the use of revenues from our transportation justice system to improve the road network in Ghana. In effect, all revenues from our traffic justice system should be dedicated to a road and highway fund, geared towards the improvement of our roads and providing mass education on safety. Furthermore, some of the revenue can be used to shore up the technology backbone of the DMLA system.

Ghana has serious systemic foundation problems. If these fundamental problems are not addressed, no system, no matter how good they sound or well intentioned, will work. Besides attacking the corruption mindset, we have to address the computerization of the Motor Vehicle Licensing System. Without a viable computer system, accessible to law enforcement officials in all part of Ghana, nothing else will work. In addition, we need a national address system to help identify property and person, accurately. Every property must be linked to a responsible identity. The latter includes number plates for cars and huts in the village. Until we have all properties legally registered with a valid address, it will be difficult to identify people and property, let alone trace them to an address. Without all the above, we will never be able to operate a viable and sustainable Motor Vehicle System that allows the police to pursue justice. To try to address these inveterate problems with a spot fine canard is nothing short of trying to fool the public. Britain, France, Austria, Germany and Portugal all have an address and computerized DMLA system.

This spot fine system will serve as inordinate punishment and hassle for sure but will also put the police in a great bargaining position to collect bribes. If the spot fine schedule is not a guide or bible to bribe extortion, I don’t know what is. The challenge with punishment is that, it must be commensurate with the offence. How on earth do you charge 600 Cedis (approximately $300) for failure to use a seat belt? I am not encouraging anyone not to use their seat belt but are we not going overboard here? Where I live, a seat belt violation cost $35. And yes, you can go to court and plead your case! And if you opt to go to or are invited to court and don’t show up, a warrant will be issued and your driver’s license will be revoked. As a result of your address and Social Security number, they know where to find you. There are so many tools in a computerized system environment to help law enforcement deal with scofflaws. Why can’t we do the same in Ghana, instead of this spot fine canard? Whether you pay your fine now or later, all depends on a viable computerize DMLA system not police intimidation and force. Punishment, by the way, must also be very reasonable.

Can someone explain how the police is going to handle cash on the streets? What if they are attacked by armed robbers? What if all I have is a cheque book? Will the police accept credit cards? What if a rogue police officer prints his own receipts and issues them alongside the official receipts? Is there a system for checking the serial numbers of a spot fine ticket against an official serial number database? What other safeguards exist? All I am saying is that this system lends itself to all kinds of corrupt practices and I am not surprised that the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) is asking that the state closely monitor all police officers involved with the spot fine scheme. I believe no amount of monitoring can stop these professional crooks from making a haul. The best way forward is to deny them the opportunity to enrich themselves. Just don’t do it!

The reaction of society to its challenges cannot be limited to only punitive solutions. Corrective solutions are just as effective as punitive solutions. Where is the corrective bit of this spot fine system? How does the instant fine system change the mindset of the offender? Punishment does not necessarily alter a mindset. In some instances punishment may harden a mindset. Is it a fact that education, awareness and exposure can alter mindsets? Did the designers of this spot fine system factor traffic schools and other traffic sensitivity training into their thinking? Punishment alongside corrective actions, works better than punishment alone. The punishment alone one track mind, accounts for the gross failure of our prison system. A big chuck of our solutions should take corrective actions into serious consideration.

In addition, this spot fine canard will work nicely for the rich and powerful. How about the poor and meek? What do you do if you can't come up with 600 cedis because you forgot to buckle up? Is this not why a judge with discretion is preferable to a police person with a receipt book? Are we ready to build enough jail houses for those who can't afford these fines? Funny how the spot fine system fails to outline what happens to an individual who cannot afford to pay. Will they go to jail? Will their driving privileges be revoked? Impound cars? What if they have no ID? How will you revoke a driver's identity that does not exist? How do you track repeat offenders in this spot fine maze? Is this not why we need a computerized Motor Vehicle system first, before we consider such far-fetched remedies? What solutions we pick must reflect the realities of our context. In this particular instance, the police is advocating a solution that will surely not work in Ghana. No!

Who came up with these ranges in terms of points and penalties? How will this work? The police will decide where an individual falls in the range? For example, I could get 10 points and a 120 cedi fine, while someone gets 50 points and 600 cedi fine for the same seat belt violation? One offence with multiple fines? Come on now! You either wear a seat belt or not! Why do we need a range of fines to address this cut and dry offense? Wouldn't this allow the police to play favorites? Will it surely allow the police to extort more money by pointing to the top of the range?

What the motorist expects, if they breach the law, is a ticket, a day in court and a fair resolution by an independent judge. The accused need time to prepare for their case. Dishing out perceived justice on the spot is not the answer to a systemic breakdown of our traffic justice system. This proposal is no different from the lynching and mob justice that we’ve come to detest. We can do all the above without appointing the police as the sole arbiter. The rule of law and separation of powers must remain central in a toddler democracy like ours. Can this idea and sit on the lid!!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Affectionately dubbed as the double edge sword and recently mobbed as Santrofi Anoma)

I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think its hell---Harry Truman

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka