Avoid the palm trees if you know what is good for you

First, let me belatedly wish all my Muslim brothers and sisters a wonderful Eid. I’m proud to live in a nation that respects the religious beliefs of even the smallest minority of its citizens. The feeling of equality and respect that this kind of understanding engenders in citizens is worth the loss of man-hours and productivity; building a truly all-inclusive society, irrespective of religious beliefs is paramount. And truth be told, there is nothing wrong with a little rest every once in awhile for the rest of us.

I read something in this paper on Saturday that caught my attention. Insurance companies are urging Kigali City Council (KCC) to review the manner in which motorists are punished for knocking down any of the palm trees that line our streets. Presently, if you knock a palm tree down your car is confiscated until you pay a one million franc fine. Honestly, the entire thing is confusing, if not slightly illegal in my opinion.

If we are paying ‘fines’ for knocking down palm trees then we are dealing with issues pertaining to vandalism of public property, which is a criminal law issue. I say this because making a person pay one million francs for knocking down one tree is obviously an attempt to deter any such possibility. But, if KCC is looking at this issue in terms of vandalism, then they must also factor in general tenets of criminal law, which include the physical and moral element. In criminal law, it’s not enough to have committed the act, which in this case in knocking down a tree (physical element). There must also be the moral element, which in this case would be negligence, drunkenness or simply bad driving on the part of the vehicle owner. However, let’s throw in various scenarios that I think haven’t been studied.

What would happen if a driver swerved into a tree to save the life of a child, who bolted into the street running after a football? Or if the driver was clipped from behind by another car and slammed into a tree as a result? Or simply the brakes jammed as they sometimes do? Would the poor driver then have to deal with a million franc fine as well? How fair is that…and forget fair, how legal is that?

And if it’s not an issue of vandalism and simply an issue of paying back damages, then I must ask what tree is worth one million francs? A magic tree maybe. If compensation is about paying back what was damaged in the first place, then why aren’t we paying the 300,000 francs that experts believe the trees are worth, instead of a hefty one million francs?

I honestly hope that I never get into an accident involving a palm tree because truth be told I will not be able to rustle up a million francs just like that. And Lord help you if you knock down two trees at once. It would be extremely tragic if your vehicle ends up being auctioned because you hit a tree. Where is the fairness in that? Let’s not forget that it’s from OUR taxes that KCC gets the monies to plant and maintain these trees: treat us with the respect we deserve.

I’m not saying that people should be allowed to knock down trees helter-skelter. However, there must a proper and well thought plan that involves our insurance companies and doesn’t unfairly target us, the general public.

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