3 December, 2020

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Caving Into Private Bus & Trishaw Drivers – A Nation On The Brink Of Anarchy?

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

In 2015, this writer wrote a piece titled ‘Election Bribes, Budget Reversals and Trade Unions’. It dealt with the threat of a ‘general strike’ called by Trade Unions who opposed certain budgetary proposals. The government caved in, objectionable budgetary proposals withdrawn and a general strike was averted. This writer argued ‘Prime Minister Wickremesinghe accommodating the demands of unions could be interpreted as a sign of weakness and encourage strike action for unjustifiable reasons in the future’. During the ensuing one year, what was cautioned has come to pass on several occasions.

On Friday, December 2, the whole nation was in shut down mode due to Private Bus & Trishaw drivers staying away from work. There was no threat of a general strike. However, the government, on the previous day had given GMOA members a firm assurance their Disturbance, Availability and Transport (DAT) allowance would be increased after doctors stopped work on Wednesday, November 30. Due to the assurance, the possibility of strike action by both groups at the same time was averted. Railway employees too who were threatening strike action based on their own set of demands called off the strike after a discussion with the President indicating they would have won, if not all, at least most of their demands.

The fall out as a result of the Private Bus & Trishaw Drivers strike action was numerous. Some school examinations in countrywide universities had to be postponed due to low attendance of students owing to the bus strike. Examinations scheduled for Friday at Sri Lanka Law College were postponed till next Wednesday. Twelve SLTB buses countrywide had been attacked with stones and some state drivers injured by the striking miscreants. Protest marches by striking Trishaw drivers caused chaos on the roads in Colombo. The Colombo-Negombo road as well as the railway line at the Galkanda area in Negombo were blocked resulting transportation coming to a standstill. Disruption of daily life was severe.

Usually, Private Bus & Trishaw Drivers unions stop work to protest against government action such as increase in diesel charges, taxes and rejection of their demands to increase bus and trishaw fares. However, on this occasion their reasons to stop work were quite unusual. They were demanding the cancellation of the proposed increase of the minimum fine to Rs. 25,000 for seven offences.

To debate if enhanced fines should have originated through budget proposal as a means of increasing state revenue or the amendment of the Traffic Ordinance is not important and irrelevant to the issue. Either way, it is a government decision.

What is important is the government of the day feels the need to sit and negotiate with a group of persons, on certain issues which in civilized countries and societies are non- negotiable. The government’s willingness to negotiate reducing the fines from proposed levels to lower levels is a clear sign of caving into demands of the most extreme nature.

Let us examine the seven contentious offences; driving without a valid driving license, driving without an insurance certificate, overtaking on the left-hand side, high speed driving, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving recklessly at railway crossings and allowing someone to drive without a valid driving license.

It must be pointed out at the outset, there is much for us to learn from western countries where motor vehicles, motor and high ways, highway codes, right of way etc. originated, never mind us Sri Lankans having had irrigation and hydraulic systems when those in western countries were running around in grass skirts as claimed by some local patriots. In those countries, the said seven offences are not acceptable and penalties for offences non-negotiable. Unlike in our Shangri-La, prosecution of offenders is swift.

In the case of driving without a valid driving license, such a person is obviously not a trained and qualified driver. Such an act could cause injury and death to others. What is the justice in imposing a paltry fine or even Rs 25,000 to a person who is responsible of making a cripple of another human being or worse, snuffing out a human life? The same argument applies to driving without a valid insurance certificate. In this instance, it involves public and private property besides compensation for injured or lost human lives. Likewise, the argument for allowing someone to drive without a valid driving license. It endangers both lives and public and private property. The consequences of high speed driving and driving under the influence of liquor are similar. They both endanger life and property. In civilized countries, penalties for these categories of offences increase progressively, depending on the speed and quantity of alcohol in the offender’s blood. When speed limits and permitted alcohol levels are exceeded by a wide margin, it results in a hefty fine, awarding of demerit points (12 points within a two year period results in revocation of driving license), withdrawal of driving license, driving ban for a specified period and the need to reapply and undergo the complete driving test once driving ban has expired. In the case of overtaking from the wrong side and driving recklessly at railway crossings, fines and demerit points awarded are such they act as a deterrent for offenders.

Lawlessness in our society is endemic. It is not only the politicians who disregard the law (traffic laws or otherwise). As seen from this episode, respect for traffic law by the down trodden Private Bus and Trishaw drivers is non-existent. Hence their demand for more leniency for offences they should not be committing in the first instance. Meanwhile, the law on our roads have been turned into the law of the jungle, thanks in no small measure to the Private Bus & Trishaw divers. It would be grossly unfair not to even passingly mention yet another group, the users of high end vehicles such as Mercs, BMWs, SUVs etc. who are equal contributors.

Therefore, this is an earnest appeal for the government to amend the traffic ordinance for the three traffic offences of driving without a valid license, without a valid insurance certificate and allowing someone to drive a vehicle without a valid driving license not to read as Rs 25,000 but to a one year jail sentence on hard labor, with no provision for reprieve under any circumstances.

Besides the issue of law and order, another very important factor is the manner in which groups of persons, may it be Private Bus & Trishaw Drivers, Doctors or any other, are able to hold the government and the entire nation to ransom. Trade Unions were formed in western countries by workers as a means to stay in work. What we see today is Trade Unions using every possible excuse to keep workers away from work. Strike action is a right bestowed upon trade unions as a means to negotiate and win reasonable demands. However, that right was meant to be used responsibly and not wantonly for unreasonable and irresponsible demands as was the case last Friday.

This government has been besieged with threats of trade union action from the day it assumed power in 2015. Every step forward has been followed with three backward steps due to threats of strike action as we experienced after the Budget Proposals in December 2015, with ETCA, first increase in VAT and several other occasions.

Worker demands need be listened to and not dismissed outright. On the other hand, workers too, including doctors need be reasonable. The government cannot continue for the remainder of their mandated period without taking a firm stand when necessary. It currently takes a stand when agitators meet the relevant subject Minister and change their stand either when agitators meet the next level, the Cabinet Sub-committee or the final stage of meeting the President. It also points out of a government incapable of making well thought out policies and decision and ability to sell such policies and decision to the stakeholders. By doing so, the government of the day is cornering itself to a position of impotency whilst the nation is threatened with anarchy.

The government should seriously consider the reintroduction of the ‘Essential Services Act’ through which strike actions as we saw last Friday could be nipped at the bud and prevented. As this writer recollects, the Essential Services Act has been successfully utilized at different times in the last five decades, the last as I remember being when President CBK used it to make striking CEB employees who had sabotaged the national grid return to work. The nation was subjected to a total power outage for a couple of days.

It need be clearly understood, such an Act should under no circumstances be utilized for political purposes. Demands of Private Bus & Trishaw Drivers were not political. Nor were they to defend their rights. Their demands, to state simply, was for leniency when found committing acts essentially endangering life and property.

Law and Order is a non-negotiable subject and must be handled accordingly by all governments. To do otherwise is to take the nation on the road to anarchy.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    There should be natural justice when fines are imposed.

    The salary of a bus driver or Tuk Tuk driver is just over Rs 25 k per month without overtime and incentives, Hence you cannot impose the fine equivalent to the monthly wage for offenses such as cutting the double line and overtaking on the left.

    Recommend that the Rs 25,000 or even a Rs 50,000 fine be imposed for the following only.

    Driving under the influence of liquor
    Driving without a valid driving license
    Driving when below 18 years of age
    Driving on the opposite direction on a one way road
    Driving without lights in the night
    Exceeding speed limits beyond a specified limit.

    Also recommend that a points scheme be introduced,

  • 2
    0

    Rajeewa, quite an interesting article. However there are few observations that has to be made.

    When you say govt. “caving into demands”, please don’t misunderstand, as these are ruses to buy time to come to devilish alternates. Parliamentarians are all permanent, only their positions change, but mindset is same.

    “Therefore, this is an earnest appeal for the government to amend the traffic ordinance for the three traffic offenses of driving without a valid license, without a valid insurance certificate and allowing someone to drive a vehicle without a valid driving license not to read as Rs 25,000 but to a one year jail sentence on hard labor, with no provision for reprieve under any circumstances.”

    You are mistaken. FM accidentally found out this area to earn more money for the treasury, not in the interest of safety of life. We don’t have any intelligent legislators in the house to handle this subject. They are all concerned of number of votes and the amount of revenue to be received by their actions while in the subject ministry to secure their seat at the next election.

    It is while looking for area of revenue they stumbled upon these ‘fines’. Your concern is the safety, so is it for the citizens. Road discipline needs more actions. It has to come from people and the authorities. First step should be to eradicate corruption at all levels. Cabinet is not the ideal body to decide on fines as they are all corrupt themselves 100%. There should be another statutory body who should correctly evaluate the situations and decide on an appropriate course of action to improve road safety. That is, to work on a point basis to evaluate the performance of the driver and decide on what kind of further training he would require. As for his/her offenses, appropriate fines, damages and/or imprisonment should be decided by a court of law. The traffic police should not deal with fines, instead they should deal only by giving points to demerit for further training or for periodic suspension. Traffic police should behave more people friendly, but be strict by deterring if any wrong doing is done. Policing law should not be converted into business.

    “Besides the issue of law and order, another very important factor is the manner in which groups of persons, may it be Private Bus & Trishaw Drivers, Doctors or any other, are able to hold the government and the entire nation to ransom. Trade Unions were formed in western countries by workers as a means to stay in work.”

    As mentioned earlier our ministers are bass unay’s. They are unable to think of a democratic process which will keep the social process very smooth. This situation needs an amendment to the the human rights law called Responsibility to people. By correct wording, ‘essential services act’ could be incorporated and in addition that the party to strike action will have to bear the responsibility for the damages and losses. In other words, strike could be performed without causing losses to the general public. The same should be applied to the forces and police and in that case the govt. should be held responsible to compensate. That is justifiable and constructive.

    “Law and Order is a non-negotiable subject and must be handled accordingly by all governments. To do otherwise is to take the nation on the road to anarchy.”

    For this to exist we need honest politicians, which we don’t have. at least people must become intelligent to elect some next time.

  • 1
    0

    Can you imagine going on strike against a law that is suppose to safeguard people using roads from Drivers misusing their vehicles .Could no one educate these people that the fine is only for the crime and not a road toll or tax for the use of the road .

  • 0
    0

    The trouble arose as a result of making a forecast on the “Revenue” that would be generated as a result of the imposition of the fines. Then all the Opposition, including quite unexpectedly JVP too went against the proposal. Those seven classified offenses for which fines are imposed, are the most wanted, if not “Sufficient”. I do not not know why “Road Rage” was not included in the list. This too contribute to make the roads quite unsafe. The “Revenue” factor should never have been mentioned or intended. These idiots in charge used to always put the cart before horse. Some people started challenging the amount of fine is not in keeping with a persons income. What a way to argue? Anyway that is no surprise in a country in Sri Lanka. Apart from the imposition of fines, there must be provisions in the Insurance Law to institute a law suite and claim heavy damages and compensation from the offender and the respective Insurance Company who gave the insurance cover. If the Insurance Law is strengthened in this way, there will be a demand on the Insurance companies to give cover on very strict conditions and even deny to regular offenders. This is another way to discipline the drivers and reduce road accidents.

  • 1
    0

    Friends, Friends, there is some thing called deterrent. Why countries’ built up strong military forces, to make the perceived enemies within and out to feel, if they misbehave, that they have to face severe consequences of their bad actions, and it’s a good way of preventing wars and conflicts, and keep the peace. Same way these fines would be a better deterrent to fore warn and prevent them committing these offenses.

  • 2
    0

    Mr Jayaweera, Thank You for raising a topical point. Especially given that the carnage on our roads is at its highest ever. Every citizen who takes to the roads in sunny Sri Lanka is putting his life on the line.

    It is madness to allow an incapable or incompetent person to take charge of a killing machine and drive down the street. That is what we have allowed all this time. Fresh evidence is brought in to the hospital and mortuaries of our land everyday.

    If a monkey escaped from Dehiwela zoo, grabbed a kalashnikov and walked down Hill Street (pshoom! Pshoom! Pshoom!…get the idea?) what would we do?

    I would say that 25,000 will be cheap, given what some of our bus mudalali’s are making.

    The government should stand firm!

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