Samoan diplomats incur over $5000 parking fines

Samoan diplomats based in Canberra, Australia owe the Australian Capital Territory government over $5000 tala in parking fines, reports the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

Diplomats representing five Pacific Island nations—which have foreign missions in the Australian capital—made it to a list, which was based on new data from the territory government. 

Out of the five Pacific Island nations, Samoan diplomats owed the highest in parking fines with AU$3071 ($5,516.44 tala), followed by Tonga (AU$1755), PNG (AU$634), Fiji (AU$503) and New Zealand (AU$304). Vehicles owned by Samoan diplomatic staff got a total of 25 parking fines, followed by Tonga with 13, PNG 1, Fiji 4 and New Zealand 1. 

The Russians topped the list of bad parkers in the Australian capital. The country's embassy had 173 outstanding parking fines at the last count. Diplomats from the embassy on Canberra Avenue owed $22,761.

Second in the list of non-payers for parking are the Egyptians, who owe $12,609 for 107 infringements.

The figures may understate the level of transgression because there are 259 unpaid penalties to diplomats from unknown embassies. These unpaid fines add up to $42,213 owing.

On top of that, the National Capital Authority also has 31 outstanding parking notices for diplomatic vehicles, adding up to $3792.

In total, diplomats in the ACT owe more than $135,000 in parking fines, according to the territory government.

The Ghanaian and Slovak embassies didn't respond to requests for comment. The Russian embassy said it was a private matter between it and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

But the Egyptian embassy said it had had only six parking tickets this year. Two had been paid, three are still being disputed and the other had been incurred by a driver who had been fired.

The spokeswoman said the embassy had its own cars but diplomats also had their own cars with diplomatic plates and these individual owners were expected to pay their own fines.

The Egyptian ambassador met an official at the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2015 and agreed to pay all fines from then on, and that's what the embassy had done. All the other fines were from before that, some incurred by people who had long left the country.

It's not clear how the fines can be collected or parking rules enforced but Foreign Affairs has spelt out the rules. It tells the ambassador at the offending embassy about "all serious or repeat traffic infringements involving their staff or staff dependents".

And it warns that repeated offences get points on the licence. "Licences held by mission and post staff and their dependents can be suspended if the license holder accumulates sufficient demerit points or traffic or parking fines remain unpaid."

And then the ultimate warning: pay-up or ship out. "Continuing to drive on a suspended licence would demonstrate a serious disregard for Australia's traffic rules and could lead to a request for the individual’s withdrawal from Australia."

The law was changed two years ago, so for the first time diplomats who broke traffic law or parking rules or refused to pay the fines, would have their driver's licence suspended.

There have been complaints about diplomats flouting the law in the past. Documents released in 2016 revealed a litany of offences.

One Saudi diplomat drove at 135 km/h past Parliament House at 2am, leading police on a pursuit through the city. The allegation was that the diplomat didn't have a valid licence. He was alleged to have blamed the behaviour on a lack of antibiotics.

Another Saudi diplomat was caught speeding through an intersection at 107km/h in an 80km/h zone.

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