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Opinions of Friday, 13 February 2009

Columnist: Atuahene, Kwame

A dawn of a new era


*By *

*Kwame Koduah Atuahene Esq.*

"If you want to change the fruits, you will first have to change the roots. If you want to change the visible, you must first change the invisible" *- T. Harv Eker*

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The election of Professor Mills to the high office of state points to the virtue inherent in perseverance. It was obviously not an easy rise for him at a personal level considering the record attempts made to serve as the first citizen of nation Ghana.

Your Excellency, accept my congratulations as I fully associate with prayers for good health and wisdom which have poured in so far from well wishers home and abroad.

H.E. President Mills during his inauguration rightly remarked and reminded us of the dawn of the new era coming after the campaign characterized by a call for change by the ruling party.

As a road safety advocate, I look forward in earnest for the change in all facets of our national life particularly, in the area of commitment and the political will to prioritize road safety at the highest level of decision making. Like President Jacque Chirac, who turned around the accident record of France from grass to grace, H. E. John Mills might want to aptly set his sights at repairing this real national concern as part of his legacy when he retires.

A few skeptics might question the justification for this request in view of the daunting demands on the national purse. The ruling party's quest to invest in people, the implications of a safe road on our poverty reduction strategies and national savings among other concerns provide for enough reason to focus on road safety for once.

Road transportation undoubtedly provide for about 97% of our inland transportation needs which makes it an important input for our socio-economic projections and challenges, yet not much attention is paid to the safety aspect of this transportation mode.

The influential Economist news Magazine in an article headlined, "*Another way to die in Africa*" described road traffic accident in sub Saharan African countries as an environment dominated by poor and badly maintained roads, unqualified and reckless drivers, decrepit vehicles and ignorant and corrupt police officers.

Though some gains have been achieved, I could see an extreme difficulty at any attempt to exonerate Ghana of association with the above description.

Available statistics from the National Road Safety Commission point out that, about 150 Ghanaians die monthly to road crashes as several thousands are left injured. The economic implications to the state are far reaching than our collective conduct suggests.

Every year, the cost of crashes to the state is no less than about 1.6% of the national GDP that translates into not less than *USD130million* ( *enough to build five Essipong-type stadia)*. Goods and properties worth several millions of Ghana cedis is also lost to accidents annually.

It is estimated that the cost one of the newly bank-sponsored 51 seating capacity buses on our roads is near the capital requirement of any rural bank in Ghana and their potential loss or destruction should be justifiably prevented if not avoided by all including government.

Quite disturbingly, road safety has emerged as a threat to the visible tourism potential yet the spending to correct the challenge has been abysmal. In making the choice to spend money in Cairo, Cape coast or Kuala Lumpur, the prudent tourist in line with emerging practice, irrespective of the attractions will give considerations to the accident record prior to a determination of the destination.

The irony of the crash (accident) situation in Ghana however, is that seventy percent (70%) of the crashes in Ghana occur on straight and flat roads in Ghana. The reasoning is that, it is of little consequence to focus on the construction of new roads while disregard investments into their safe use. The road safety problem is beyond the questions of how many roads have we constructed and how long will they serve our needs?

Research has proven for instance that, there is a correlation between driver's competence, poor conditions of service and the crash situation in Ghana.

There is an obvious attitudinal challenge which the new order must change urgently. Many Ghanaians are most likely to be frightened and watchful of a reported 150 cholera-related deaths every month but same people will not hassle if the death toll is crash related. The Ghanaian sense of passion for road safety is regrettably dead and purports to be alive when familiar and influential persons die to road accidents. Respectfully, that is an offensive, wrong and discriminatory mentality and the change crusade must be now.

The World Health Organisation declared road safety a public health issue in 2004 charging governments to invest into their reversal or risk the danger of the phenomenon becoming the third cause of death after heart disease and unipolar depression and interestingly not HIV/AIDS, Diarrhoeal diseases, War or Tuberculosis in 2020.

Ghana is ahead of its peers in the crusade for institutional and attitudinal change but a lot more needs to be done. In line best practice, Ghana has a lead road safety agency in the NRSC; key strategy informed by accurate data. The effort of the NRSC is encouraging as Ghana's fatality rate has declined from a high of 36 deaths in 10000 vehicles to 21 deaths per 10,000 vehicles over the last ten years.

The national target however is to make Ghana the country with the safest road transportation system in Africa. To achieve this target which is also in line with our middle income aspiration, we must work hard to record a single digit fatality rate or less that a 1000 death per year by the year 2015.

This target is achievable if government will approach the challenge with urgency and commitment at the highest level. Government functionaries led by His Excellency must follow the example of France, Sweden and Denmark to be key advocates for safety by championing best practices at every given opportunity.

Again lead agencies should be resourced to prosecute proven systemic reforms, intensify advocacy for global best practices as well as enforcing existing laws as a means to the change we yearn for in this vital area of our national life. The known demonstrable challenge that distinguishes the success and failure of countries in their quest to sanitize their roads is sustainable funding.

Globally, Road Safety is funded by levies on fuel, road funds and insurance premium among others. *The National Road Safety Commission Act , Act 567,1999*, provides for a semblance of sustainable funding opportunities in sections 14 and 16 of Act 567.

Section 14 of Act 567 provides that money be allocated from the Road fund for purposes of road safety. In addition to that, Section 16 mandates the insurer through the National Insurance Commission and the Ghana Insurers Association to agree with the National Road Safety Commission to allocate part of the premiums charged in respect of motor insurance policy.

The palpable defects in sections 14 and 16 of the Law by failing to specify in clear percentage terms, in line with best global practice, how much should be allocated for road safety concerns has habitually mirrored road safety matters as "second-rated" at least before the fund managers.

Most countries in the world with very good road safety records have road safety financing plan which includes spending between 3-5% of the total annual road expenditure on road safety programmes and activities. The average allocation from the road fund in Ghana to the NRSC has been below about 0.7% as against the request for 2% of their revenue to empower the NRSC to deliver on its mandate and vision for road safety.

The cost of constructing one kilometer asphaltic road is estimated at USD700, 000, whereas the annual revenue generated by the road fund stood at US$ 130,000,000 as of 2006. The 2% expectation for road safety activities is comparable to the cost of about 4-km asphaltic road in Ghana. The question then is whether it is worth to lessen our road bill by just four (4) kilometers of asphaltic roads in other to adequately finance the strategy to deliver road safety. I respond respectfully in the affirmative.

My humble plea to H. E. John Evans Atta Mills is that the new era he inspires and directs should not respectfully exclude investment into our safe use of the roads. Indeed, whatever progress we make as a nation the fact that our usage of our roads result to 150 deaths and several injuries on a monthly basis must attract his priority lenses.

It remains my wish to evaluate his tenure by gains to be made on the points of advocacy by the leadership class and the support for road safety in Ghana.

Our desire for a change must reflect in the root in other to deliver adequately on the fruits and visible. Road safety is a shared responsibility and I expect the presidency to take appropriate share of this national responsibility. God bless us all.