Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis, who is in charge of traffic, is a delightful character. Many other policemen have caught the public imagination through their deeds - real and imagined - in the trenches of what often amounts to urban warfare in Jamaica. However, despite being a graduate of the tough policing required in Spanish Town, St Catherine, it is as a no-nonsense cop in a notoriously indisciplined sector that his reputation has ballooned.
It does not hurt that Lewis is always good for a memorable quote. So when he appeared before a committee of the Senate earlier this month and spoke about the need to clean up the tax offices, as a major source of corrupt practices, it was in his striking style.
Lewis said: "This has been happening for years but it would appear that no one wants to bell the cat, and the cat will have to be belled now ... . All of us will have to clean TAJ ( Tax Administration of Jamaica) and clean it squeaky clean. ... The system there is almost like normal. If you not doing corruption there, you are not saying anything, you are not cutting any dash ... . It has to be cleansed and all of us as senior persons. When you cleaning that place, you will have to use Dettol, Lysol, and Jeyes (fluid)."
The TAJ, of course, responded swiftly, largely decrying Lewis' statements, and from the position of those who run the organisation, chances are they do not see things the same way that the police officer does. Chances are, too, Lewis does not see corruption in the traffic policing system from quite the same perspective as the general public, of which I am a part.
From first-hand encounters to numerous tales from other encounters, I have a storehouse of tales about corruption at both ends of the system - the people who write up the tickets and those who are responsible for processing them. I cannot comment on the falsification of documents on the TAJ side, or the alleged collusion between individual police officers and tow truck operators, on the other.
However, I can speak about the police officer's offer of options - "write or lef'?", as in should he write up the ticket, or will the motorist 'lef' a money? I can also speak about the openness with which 'business' is done just outside two Inland Revenue Department offices in St Andrew. And 'just outside' does not mean on the road, but within clear sight of persons working inside the building.
There is also the question "You get tru in deh?" asked of some who leave Traffic Court on Camp Road, St Andrew, the implication being that something can be done to set things aright if all is not well.
The set-up, then, is rotten from different points (we will not even talk about the issuing of certificates of fitness), and while the tossing of accusations makes for good quotes, it does not go to the heart of the matter. We may soon get to the point where, if we are serious about making a dent in the entrenched corruption that facilitates the chaos on our roads, we will need a specialised unit like Kingfish.
And guess who would be the head shark? Snr Supt Lewis, of course!