We begin from the perspective that traffic management, when added to overall law enforcement, saddles the Guyana Police Force with a level of responsibility which the human and material resources at its disposal does not allow it to deliver to the general satisfaction of the citizenry as a whole. This is precisely why the altogether painfully slow process of police reform must be significantly hastened if the Force is expected to raise its own game.
Traffic management has, it seems, fallen victim to a condition of worsening disorder. This applies, particularly, to downtown Georgetown where, truth be told, chaos has become the order of the day. Sections of our major highways have also become periodic victims of the knots in our traffic management system. Responsibility for all of this, it has to be said, cannot simply be placed at the door of the Police Traffic Department. The problem derives, in large measure, from the fact at the macrocosmic level, our overall traffic administration regime including the configuring of our urban road network to adapt to changing traffic needs has simply not been forthcoming, so that there is a sense in which the Police Traffic Department is batting on what, in cricketing parlance, one might call a ‘dodgy’ wicket.
The problem with the Force is that it has not done its own case for public support a great deal of good by taking what sometimes appears to be a bullish posture in response to what, all too frequently, is glaring evidence of corrupt practices in the day to day administration of traffic, seeking to pass the whole thing off as either public mischief or public imagination. Here, what appears to be its official position that charges of corrupt traffic cops can only be taken seriously in circumstances where those are attended by “evidence,” and that in the words of at least two senior police officers when addressing the issue of bribe-taking, ‘where there are no givers there will be no takers.’ Frankly, this position requires no serious probing to determine that it is, quite simply, nothing short of absurd and that it should be cast aside by the top brass of the Force for the sake of its own dignity with due haste.
Meanwhile, the congestion on the streets arising out of the ever rising number of vehicles and the absence of growth in attendant infrastructure, notably roadways, continues to make what has long been a difficult situation, manifestly worse. The congestion, too, has given rise to an intensified level of recklessness while the failure to bring this regime of intensified road-related lawlessness under control has meant that the transgressions have become incremental amongst all categories of road users – pedestrians, pedal cyclists, motorists and motorcyclists, particularly, have become less mindful of the safety-related protocols associated with coexisting with other road users, a consequence of what would appear to be an inexorable rise in the number of so-called ‘fender benders,’ relatively minor motor accidents that could, in some instances, still be costly to the victims, to say nothing about the confrontations that often derive from these occurrences. Here, the point should be made (we have of course made it many times in the past) that there is every reason to believe that the unchecked mindfulness of the traffic laws demonstrated by many minibus drivers is buttressed by ‘immunities’ arising out of the ‘police connections’ of which they frequently boast, an argument which the Force resents but one that is openly admitted by the offending minibus crews themselves.
Sadly, on the whole there continues to be a disturbing drift away from the observance of the rules associated with proper road use. Speed, combined with an unfathomable recklessness and seeming disregard for life and limb have been mostly responsible for pushing our road fatalities ever upwards, and the various pronouncements emanating from the Police Traffic Department regarding initiatives being put in place to render the roads safer are nowhere near as effective, as they ought to be. Arguably the most glaring phenomenon amongst the litany of current road-safety related anomalies is what now appears to be the wholesale flouting of the law relating to the wearing of the prescribed helmets by motor cyclists and their pillion riders.
One can already hear the upper echelons of the Guyana Police Force protesting what they customarily describe as police-bashing though, frankly, whatever the Force may say about ‘bringing the evidence’ of irregularities in the on-the-street administration of traffic, it cannot be honestly be denied that this particular aspect of policing has become disfigured by corruption and that it is this, largely, that undermines effective traffic administration. There are, unfortunately, far too many transgressors who appear to be above the law insofar as answering for traffic offences is concerned and it is high time that the ‘higher ups’ in the Force get it through their heads that their ‘bring us the evidence’ (of corruption) will simply not wash.
To return to the matter of the application of the helmet law the Police Traffic Department can hardly pretend to be unaware of the current craze for speed on the streets as evidenced in the purchase of motorcycles made specifically for the purpose. The market for these is that clique of speed merchants who have gotten it into their heads that the shunning of helmets amounts to a further extension of their already over-sized egos. Some weeks ago, during the mid-day period when the Camp and Robb streets junction often becomes hopelessly snagged in traffic jams, two clearly helmetless motor cyclists were part of eastbound traffic flow being held in check by a traffic policemen whilst the north and south bound traffic on Camp Street was being allowed to flow. The two had stopped a matter of a few feet away from the rank directing the traffic. They were ‘working’ the throttles of their bikes with a level of persistence that could not have failed to get his attention. He did not bat an eyelid and once he gave the signal for the traffic on their side to flow, they rode off as calmly as you please. In another relatively recent incident just off Sheriff Street, approaching the Sea Wall, a motor-cycled traffic cop could be seen having a conversation with a helmeted biker whose female pillion rider was helmetless. The exchange appeared to have nothing to do with the transgression and eventually, the two rode off in separate directions, the civilian pillion rider still helmetless and seemingly not in the least concerned.
It does the morale of the Guyana Police Force – whether it be the Traffic Department or otherwise – no good if the institution is subjected to persistent public bashing. One accepts, too (as has already been mentioned) that much is demanded of the Force in circumstances where the resources at its disposal are limited. Sometimes, however, in issues like traffic management, one gets the impression that the police have become prisoners of their own denial of charges of corruption in on-the-street administration. Part of its current image problem reposes in its propensity to retreat into a laager of defensiveness as a means of seeking cover for what, in the instance of traffic administration, particularly, are altogether inexcusable anomalies. That has to end and the Force must be prepared to ‘level’ with the public that it has pledged to serve rather than to proffer unhelpful pushback each time it is confronted with a legitimate criticism.