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Opinions of Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Columnist: Atuahene, Kwame Koduah

Ghanaian Politicians must follow President Chirac

Yesterday, Professor Agyemang Badu Akosa, Convention Peoples Party 2008 failed presidential candidate reportedly rubbished Ghana’s middle income status, saying it is misleading and in course of his assessment rightly remarked that, “Our burden of disease is so high and it is because we are not fixing the wider social determinant. Nobody is fixing environmental sanitation; nobody is fixing personal hygiene; nobody is fixing safe water; nobody is fixing air quality; nobody is fixing the problems of the road, the problems of transportation so the health service sadly feels the pinch from all these areas”

My emphasis, “nobody is fixing the problems of the road, the problems of transportation so health service sadly feels the pinch from all areas”

Politicians in this country have gained notoriety for speaking big when the damage is fresh and the scream scary headlines take center stage.

Road safety kills has over the last decade killed over 20,000 of our friends, relatives and breadwinners and left several thousand with permanent physical disabilities. It is instructive to mention that 20,000 votes could have avoided a run-off in the last election in Ghana and enough to secure a parliamentary seat.

Politicians in this country have demonstrated utmost disrespect to our safety at least on the road but are always manage to put up a face assuring to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with devastated families often times after the damage is done.

Over the last decade, the years 2000 and 2004 both election years have recorded some of the disturbing rates of crashes in Ghana. In view of this, the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) in 2008 proactively developed a road safety code of conduct for political parties to guide their campaign and also demanded that politicians should declare their vision for road safety.

A perusal of the manifesto of the political parties ahead of the 2008 election was to suggest the least the insensitivity of those who pretend to care for our welfare on the points of road safety.

I am urging Ghanaian politicians and their political parties to follow President Chirac even if “sheepishly” on his desire for change in his country’s road safety profile.

In Ghana, road safety kills 200o yearly yet the politicians don’t care. In Ghana, road crashes injures about 20,000 people yet it does not register in their minds for attention. In Ghana, close to 60% of crash victims are within the productive age bracket of 18-55years In Ghana, Politicians are quick to boost with the kilometers of roads they have constructed during their term yet have no idea the no of lives killed on the same roads. In Ghana though speeding accounts for over 60% of all road crashes we have turned a blind eye to a legislation that seeks to fix it. In Ghana, the police will have to count on the benevolence of individuals and organizations to procure basic enforcement furniture like speed guns and alcoholmeters because the state has no budget for the traffic enforcement unit. In Ghana, the economic loss of road crashes to the economy is 1.6% of the GDP, yet it is neglected. In 2009 alone this translated into USD$419million (budget for about 20 MDA’s) yet never a priority concern. In Ghana, politicians look at financial support for road safety related institutions as a cost and not an investment

President Chirac’s demonstration of political will and leadership to fight road crashes is enviable and worthy of emulation.

According to the FIA foundation, “For many years the road safety situation in France was disturbing. The numbers killed and injured was significantly higher than in some neighbouring countries. Then in 2002 something changed. In his Bastille Day address President Chirac announced that road safety was one of the top priorities of his new Presidential term. Road safety is not traditionally a subject that Heads of State make a major theme of one of their most important speeches of the year. But President Chirac did just that. And he encouraged his Ministry of Transport, the police, public authorities and above all the French people to take action to promote road safety.

In 2002 7,400 people died on the roads in France. Two years later, the number has dropped to 4,900. President Chirac’s initiative has resulted in an unprecedented 20% reduction in road traffic deaths”

Indeed before President Chirac left office France had registered a turnaround from one of the countries with the worst crash records in Europe to one of the best performers in terms of road safety.

For his effort, President Chirac was awarded the first FIA World Prize for Road Safety, the Environment and Mobility. Again in 2004 the World Health Organization asked President Chirac to host the official launch of the year’s World Health Day devoted to the theme of road safety.

We need not reinvent the wheel. Our presidents know how to make our roads safer. Increasing funding for road safety institutions, wearing seat belts, enforcement of drink driving laws, respecting speed limits, better road design are all measures that work if governments have the courage and conviction to apply them.

For thousands of French families, President Chirac’s political action avoided the terrible loss of loved ones, shattered hopes and lives cut short. The President’s Bastille Day speech and the remarkable progress it released served a wonderful demonstration of the value and importance of political leadership.

I make a call on all Ghanaians to join me to demand from our presidential candidates, parliamentary candidates and their political parties, their vision for road safety ahead of the 2012 election. Today Sweden has the safest roads in the world because their national vision, dubbed the vision zero for road crashes that was championed from parliament. I dare ask, how many parliamentarians can tell about the road safety situation in their constituencies without a call through a public office. The time to improve our situation is now.