Clean Driver Testing needed


The front page of The Island, Saturday 8th September carries a news item stating the AAC (Automobile Association of Ceylon) and SLTB (Sri Lanka Transport Board) would/could form a joint venture to do driving tests (initially a part of the total as a cautionary move), to provide an option for the well-known lack of credibility in the methods and outcomes of current CMT / EMV conducted tests.

I am writing to contribute some history to the story, as I was Commissioner of Motor Traffic and Registrar of Motor Vehicles (CMT/RMV) from 1984 to 1986. In that short period I computerized the issue of vehicle registrations, transfers etc., after training the staff to work in English, issued the annual revenue license on the birthday (date of first registration) of the vehicle - instead of the year end for all, thus avoiding the crowds and chaos; formulated the items for fitness tests for vehicles and selection of garages/personnel to issue them. Some of these things (if not all) were practices inherent in road and vehicle administration in a democratic state. We had inherited these from British colonial times and the law of motor traffic (if I remember right) states at the very outset that the Government Agent performed some of the functions as authorized by the CMT.

So, the role of driver testing and certification can be delegated. But the ultimate authority must remain with the CMT, unless the current law is amended. As at now, the AAA, which is an international entity with a presence in each country, has the right to issue a certificate of competence based on the certification of the CMT, and not independently of the CMT. Is this proposed new dual person of AAA cum SLTB also going to be delegated power by the CMT to do legal certification? The Attorney General will come into the picture no doubt, and perhaps the Supreme Court.

Being a civil servant and a professional state administrator (as a member of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service) some of the work I did, as described above, was possible after learning on the job. I was able to visit both Britain and USA to learn how they do it there, and I was well positioned to learn because I had been on a post-graduate scholarship in Oxford, driving my car and seeing what it was all about. So when I began my "reforming career" in motor traffic (as Mr. D.B.I.P.S. Siriwardene my boss, Secretary Public Administration, and head of the public service put it) I could see how the various nuts and bolts of motor vehicle law and practice fitted. On a visit sponsored by our Transport Ministry and Foreign Ministry, headed by Ministers M.H. Mohamed and A.C.S. Hameed respectively, I visited most of the relevant state organizations in UK and some in USA, and found answers to my questions. One question for which I found an answer was about driver testing. The UK had done it for ages and I was able to persuade the agency to send their chief driving examiner and chief vehicle examiner for a short period to Colombo, to help set up models and systems under UK aid, and train a batch of driving examiners.

When the two Chief Examiners from Britain arrived they talked with our people. For vehicle testing the components were agreed on quickly, and for driver testing we agreed on what the items and methods should be. A two-week seminar on driver testing was planned and the Minister of Transport was to open the proceedings. Just the day before the seminar I was informed that the training seminar was cancelled, after a chat between the Minister and the Examiners of Motor Vehicles. The official angle was that we are not dependent anymore on foreigners. We did not have to learn from them. My personal take on this was that driver testing is the bread and butter of motor traffic corruption, from which income the inspectorate (EMVs) with well-established routines related to driver teaching schools, could not only feather their own nests but also contribute part of the take to other beneficiaries like the politicians, who supervised them. They perhaps wondered whether a kind of driver testing manual would be composed at the seminar with their concurrence, and they would be subject to such a set of rules and supervision, and would NOT be able to claim that each examiner had the sole right to decide who passed or did not pass the test.

I write this letter tell a true story of how we tried to do something about driver testing and failed. Will this supposed move to subvert corruption in driver testing have a better fate?


Commissioner of Motor Traffic (1984-86)

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