$4 fine a waste of time

GOVERNMENT Senator Charles Sinclair is calling for the review, strengthening and enforcement of public order legislation, one of which stipulates fines as low as $4 for breaches which, he says, are hampering the ability of law enforcers to meaningfully maintain discipline amongst citizens.

“Disorderly conduct, obstructing police in the lawful execution of their duties remain petty session offences with minimal sanctions. With minimal sanctions, the police tasked with ensuring public order is maintained may not have seen it worth their while and effort to enforce the provisions. You go to court and what is the penalty? A $4 fine, some minimal fines, $1,000 fines,” he said.

Sinclair argued that it costs more for the police “to come off duty to transport the person to the police station, write up the paper, and for the person to go to court and police to take time off to go to the court” than the fine itself.

Sinclair, who was making his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Upper House on Friday, was specifically referring to the Towns and Communities Act. He lamented that with these minuscule penalties some Jamaicans have lost all respect for law and order.

“When we look on the videos that we see circulating on social media, many Jamaicans find humour in disrespecting the police — in effect, disrespecting the State,” he said.

“Our public order legislation, for whatever reason, has been left behind and we need to review them, enhance them and enforce them. It is as if these laws don’t exist and the nation was placed on a course of ‘anything ah anything’,” he charged.

Under the Towns and Communities Act, which was promulgated in the 1800s, a person convicted of noisy and disorderly conduct in a public place “shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding $4 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 30 days, or in default of payment of any pecuniary penalty to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a period not exceeding 30 days”.

Another provision in the archaic law stipulates that anyone who commits any offence forbidden under the law and has caused any hurt or damage to any person or property, and have not made amends for such hurt or damage to the satisfaction of the aggrieved person, shall, upon conviction, pay a sum not exceeding $20.

Further, for every misdemeanour or other offence against the Act, for which no special penalty was affixed, “the offender shall, at the discretion of the justices, either be liable to a penalty not exceeding $10 or be in prison for a period not exceeding one calendar month”.

Sinclair marvelled that these are the provisions “we’re still using today in a changed society”.

Other public order laws include the Constabulary Force Act, Public Health Act, Country Fires Act, National Solid Waste Management Authority Act, Parochial Roads Act, and Town and Country Planning Act. Sinclair said these need to be strengthened “post haste”.

The senator intimated that strengthening the laws would also help to buttress specific operations by the Jamaica Constabulary Force to ensure public order in various urban centres. Those include Operation Restore Paradise in Montego Bay, Operation Leviticus in Ocho Rios, and an unnamed operation in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, which he said have been welcomed by the law-abiding residents in these areas.

Sinclair further contended that the breakdown in public order in the country has been partly due to the absence of civics as part of the school curriculum since 1992.

“Civics is the subject that taught me, among many other things, my duty and my responsibility as a citizen — respect everybody’s life. Today, that subject is lost in a one line or paragraph in social studies,” he said.

Sinclair noted that successive ministers of education since 2012 have promised a restoration of civics in the school curriculum.

“I am calling on [current Education] Minister Fayval Williams during her [tenure]: ‘Make it happen. It is full time we get beyond promise. Let us get it done,’ ” he implored.

Charles further argued that the country needs a massive education and resocialisation exercise on being a model citizen.

“We must revamp and restart the values and attitudes programme or create another — whichever tickles our fancy — but let us get it done,” he insisted.

Generated by Feedzy