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Opinions of Monday, 20 January 2014

Columnist: Ali, Prince Justice

Re: Fix your Roads and Charge tolls

Re: Fix your Roads and Charge tolls: Roads and Highways Minister

My brothers and sisters, countrymen and women, I would like to catalogue my displeasure about the article "Fix your roads and charge tolls" by Roads and Highways Minister. Whilst still waiting for comments from the Presidency, I will humbly say that the Hon. Minister has disgraced the government and also prematurely aborted the hopes of his own constituents (Sissala West) who are in dire need of motorable roads.

Difficult to comprehend is what Hon. A. A. Sulemana meant by saying that communities should fix their roads and collect tolls. If so, who now owns and controls the roads? The government? or the communities? If it had been so, then the ministry being occupied by him needn’t be in existence up till now.

First, I and many others will like to know whether what the Hon. Minister said was merely an expression of his personal opinion or a policy statement from the Ministry or government at large. If it’s his personal opinion, then he only needs to immediately apologize to his own constituents and then to all Ghanaians as whole. If the purported statement came form the presidency, I raise the following issues:
The first issue is the legality of the toll. As has already been adumbrated by legal luminaries such as Abraham Amaliba, imposition of self-determined tolls is illegal. The Hon. Minister and/or his Ministry never mentioned any issue concerning the legality or otherwise of such action. Incongruously, the said Minister is one of our lawmakers. God bless Ghana!

The second concern is the toll rate. Who determines how much the said communities exemplified by University of Ghana will be charging? Obviously, cost must be incurred to construct and to maintain roads—the basis for collection of toll. These tolls are then determined legally and then given parliamentary approval. Revenues generated will first be used to offset debt incurred in the construction and for maintenance. What happens when it becomes obvious that all such cost has been met and toll is still being collected? For maintenance? NO!

Again, who determines the rate of upward adjustment of the tolls? To say that such extra monies will be used for maintenance is needless because numerous roads on which we pay tolls but which have never seen maintenance during the last two or more decades abound. If it were the government, everyone knows that the extra money obtained serves as revenue for channelling into other sectors for development. Thus, allowing individuals to just renovate public roads and charge tolls amount to default privatisation of state property. University of Ghana in particular is a public-funded university. Therefore, the Hon. A.A. Sulemana made a big and highly embarrassing mistake when he said the university roads are not maintained by public funding.

What guarantee is the Hon Minister, his ministry and the government giving to the people of Ghana that the roads will actually be maintained. And if so, who supervises and certifies such maintenance projects? I pray the Presidency to comment on the issue to keep the records straight. The direct implications of this policy are two-pronged. First, only communities that are rich particularly those in Southern Ghana will have better roads. Second, that those of us from poor communities typified by the Hon Minister’s constituency will have to either continuously be losing our lives on the roads or openly bid for wealthy persons to come and fix our roads and then determine their own tolls. If for no apparent reason, the Hon Minister who is also the MP for Sissala West—one of the most deprived constituencies in Ghana—needn’t have spearheaded such a policy. Accordingly, his constituents, I believe, by now are not only regretting about the comments but also deeply concerned as to whether their dreams of ever getting motorable roads will materialize.

Hope, however, exists. For it’s possible that the Hon. Minister, known for his marked propensity of making unguided comments, might have spoken without the government’s consent. Even in developed countries, public safety is of so much importance to the governments that they will never allow individuals to own public roads without any due consideration of the legal and moral issues. If the Hon. Minister and his government lack investment options, our roads should never be listed on the Ghana Stock Market.

My brothers and sisters, this time is the most opportune period for us to register our outmost displeasure at the rate at which public officials are lording over us. With these kinds of ill-motivated policies, we have nothing to tell our sons and daughters who will be born in the next few years to come. The state has a responsibility; one of such areas is to ensure public safety and to prevent the poor from being exploited by the rich. What the Hon Minister and his outfit are attempting to do is a clear manifestation of state irresponsibility. Kwame Nkrumah never liberated Ghana for all its property to be needlessly diverted to individuals. Whilst awaiting a state reaction to the said statement, I retract my fingers.