I have an interest in governance and corruption, so I have to admit, I was a little bit excited when Jeremy told me he had to go to court for a traffic infraction.
By developing country standards, the police in Guyana aren't particularly corrupt, and from what I have heard, there has been a recent crack down on officers accepting bribes. However, any place where the official process for resolving minor traffic infractions is particularly burdensome, bribes have a way of becoming the standard process for resolving a traffic stop. Or, perhaps, in places where corruption is allowed to persist, officials have an incentive to make official processes especially burdensome. In any case, Guyana, like most developing countries, does not have the infrastructure in place to issue a ticket, let you pay it online, and follow up if you fail to pay. Resolving a traffic stop legally involves the moderately onerous process of reporting to the police station to pay a ticket, whose amount is determined transparently (in the case of speeding) or non transparently (in the case of pretty much anything else.) So bribes happen. Apparently the code phrase here is "let me buy you lunch."
Jeremy's particular offense was crossing a double yellow line. This might seem like a no-brainer, but consider that often the lines in the middle of the road do not exist at all, and it is easy to get in the habit of paying attention to whether it is safe to pass, not whether the lines indicate it is legal. People also die regularly passing in blatantly unsafe conditions. I wasn't there, but Jeremy claims that he passed a very slow vehicle on a straight and clear section of road, not noticing the double lines.
(A funny aside about double yellow lines-- recently the yellow center lines have been repainted on a number of roads around the periphery of Georgetown. In many cases, work crews have been sent to re-paint in black between the lines, because the first application of yellow paint was not straight or was placed such that the old yellow lines showed up in between the new ones. Infrastructure development at its best.)
Anyway, Jeremy was pulled over for crossing double yellow lines while passing. Jeremy was not given the option of reporting to the local police station to pay a ticket. Instead, he was told to report to court the next week at 9:00 am and wait for his hearing. The officers couldn't say how much he might be fined. This all seemed a little suspicious, especially since it happened a couple days after Christmas (see "Everyone Gets Their Christmas Bonus Somehow").
Jeremy dutifully showed up at court the next week promptly at 9:00 am, as is his fashion. I regrettably could not come watch him, due to work. Jeremy's court appearance turned out to be decidedly undramatic. He sat for two hours waiting for his name to be called. It never was. Since most of the sessions were closed, he couldn't even sit in the court room to listen to other cases. After the morning session came to an end, he was told his name was no where on the docket, and he could go home.
We came to the conclusion that the police officer who stopped Jeremy had never submitted the paperwork for his infraction. Maybe he never intended to. Maybe he told Jeremy to report to court, rather than allowing him to pay his ticket, in order to scare him into a bribe.
Corruption is sometimes theorized to be a way around burdensome official processes. Jeremy's trip to court shows that even when the outcomes are relatively harmless, it can be a colossal waste of time that damages the reputation of a countries' institutions.
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.