These issues are all so very critical and closely interrelated that they desperately cry out for urgent attention by the respective authorities. The first situation regarding the very low mandatory third party limits of liability existing currently under our Road Traffic Act has been the most ignored crisis in our society for decades and needs to be prioritized and placed on the front burner. More recently, an Insurance Broking colleague was also witnessed urging the authorities to address this rather burning issue and I wholeheartedly endorse his call. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that most of our public transportation vehicles, i.e. taxis, hire cars and minibuses; carry these inadequate limits of liability under their motor policies which offer little or no protection for pedestrians, passengers, the drivers themselves and the public at large. It is no coincidence that most of the accidents that occur on our roadways are directly attributable to the involvement of one of these very public service vehicles. Every year, hundreds of lives are lost due to road accidents, many more persons suffer serious injuries and many families grieve and suffer grave economic hardships after losing their loved ones from these accidents. Not to mention, the untold damage to property and consequential losses that are prevalent in these accidents which were not adequately catered for by the insurance protection of such insureds. Sometime in the 90s, the late Speaker, Hon. Derek Jagan SC, had presided over a Bill introduced in Parliament aimed at addressing this inadequacy of our laws but certain sections of the population had put up tough resistance to its progression under the pretext that those said public service vehicles owners would not have been able to afford the premiums for the increased limits of liability that were being proposed at the time. Ever since that Bill died a natural death, no other Minister of government has since seen it fit to engage the insurance and transportation industries, meaningfully, in an effort to resolve this critical situation.
A few years ago, some responsible local insurers sought to address this matter from their standpoint and commenced offering uninsured and underinsured motorists cover. This optional coverage has provided some measure of relief and can be purchased by an insured under his policy to cushion the potential disastrous effects on our roadways from those deficient motorists who do not carry any insurance or very inadequate limits of liability under their policies. Basically, those responsible insureds are buying liability coverage twice for the protection of their assets and liabilities from those delinquent motorists. Surely, that is not fair to those insureds. There is a dire need for our lawmakers to address this burning issue. The mandatory third party limits of liability for bodily injury and property damage need to be immediately increased to more realistic figures.
There are a few other collateral issues that also need be addressed in consonance with the above issue. Our economy continues to grow with more and more housing schemes opening up in all parts of the country and more of our population can now afford to purchase vehicles. Our road networks have not kept pace with this rapid development and lag very far behind. Even though some work has been done regarding some of these roadways being lit and a few traffic lights installed, a lot more needs to be done. There seems to be no programme in place for the replacement of those lamps that have gone dead or malfunction which further contributes to the hazardous condition of our roadways. Obviously, some stronger regulatory system needs to be designed to deal with the atrocious driving habits of our drivers who regularly speed or drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Another major scourge in our society is the fact that animals continue to stray on our roadways unhindered and have been the cause of quite a few accidents. The owners of these animals are conspicuously absent whenever such accidents occur and which invariably lead to loss of lives and/or severe damage to property. The responsible authorities need to aggressively step up and sustain their campaigns against such situations. I happen to travel regularly to Corriverton to visit my Branch Office there and the Berbice roadways are the worst for stray animals as soon as it gets dark.
Another aspect of this conundrum relates to the slothfulness experienced in our judicial system which creates a situation where most aggrieved parties refrain from contesting their grievances against delinquent parties in the judicial system. When persons learn that it would take 4 or 5 years before their matter is even called up for hearing and another few years before it is completed, a speedy out -of- court settlement or a reduced settlement from the insurer is usually the best course of action. It is refreshing to see both the Acting Chancellor and the Attorney General acknowledging the sloth in our judicial system and have plans to hire some more judges and implement some more reforms to correct this situation. Stronger emphasis and priority needs to be placed on these issues and reforms.
We trust that the respective Ministers in these areas would rise to the occasion and have these matters urgently addressed in the near future.
Recently, it is noteworthy that the 1998 Insurance Act, that currently governs the insurance industry, was almost rewritten in its entirety in a few months’ time. It was discovered that this Act contained numerous gaps and deficiencies and, as such, desperately needed revision. The entire insurance industry, under the guidance of the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and a World Bank consultant, sat together and made prudent representations for the new Insurance Act. It is expected that this Act will be tabled very shortly in Parliament for a very smooth passage since all stakeholders had a voice in its construction and all valid points were taken on board in a deliberative and conscientious manner.
Raj Singh- FCII, CPCU, ARM
Chartered Insurance Practitioner
CEO- Raj Singh Insurance Brokers