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Opinions of Saturday, 24 December 2011

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Second hand vehicles are a must!!

Our leaders must embrace serious thinking? : Second hand vehicles are a must!!

First, the controversial Sherry Ayittey is reported to have said, “We are going to come out with a new law that will ban the importation of second hand vehicles into Ghana”. (Ghanaweb, 10/12/2011). Subsequently on Ghanabusinessnews.com, I read a denial of the above quote by Sherry Ayittey. According to the aforementioned site, Sherry Ayittey recanted her gaffe and assured all concerned that the government has no intentions of banning the importation of second hand cars. Instead, the government will continue enforcing Customs and Exercise Legislative Instrument (LI) 1604. I hope Sherry Ayittey clearly knows the goals of Ghana’s import policies. God save us!!
Thank God this was just another juicy gaffe! I am thrilled to see this NDC government come back to it senses and put a screeching halt to perhaps the most ill-conceived idea ever mooted by a government in recent times. What prompted Sherry Ayittey to stir up such confusion? What research was she referring to? My friends, don’t you think a minister travelling to a world conference should be adequately prepared? How long must we suffer such mediocre performance?
Ghana’s policy on car importation is totally backwards and makes absolutely little sense. Indeed, it is so draconian, the very architects of these inane policies circumvent it daily. Did you read about how these elite crooks (government officials)use the name of the government to bring in their personal SUV’s and expensive cars, while they subject us to harsh levies and untold hardships at the harbor? After these criminal deeds were exposed, all we got from Atta Mills was his usual feckless huff and puff. The perpetrators are still roaming free. Ghana sweet paaaaa!! The current car importation regime is retrogressive and designed to punish those who care to provide personal transportation for self and family.
Let us first recap the transportation situation in Ghana. The public transportation system is virtually non-existent. Privately funded public transportation is fraught with challenges and frankly highly unreliable. Transportation in general is not systemic and lacks strategic direction. Public transportation vehicles are poorly kept and represent serious safety concerns for consumers of public transportation. Our inept and corrupt police make it critically worse by persistently collecting bribes, thus, enabling unsafe cars and drivers to stay on the road. If I have to choose between driving my own car and using public transportation, I will drive my own car.
Now, you would assume that a country that cannot produce cars but needs them to help transport its working population, will have a commonsense approach to vehicle importation that creates win/win solutions for all. The corruption around car importation in Ghana is partly due to the high cost of custom fees and charges. If you can’t pay the high prices, why not corrupt the system to get what you want? We nurse warped import policies, designed to sap cash out of the few who can pay. Indeed, this gravy train is so yummy, both parties, NPP and NDC, refuse to let go. Importing a car into Ghana is like committing a crime. The punishment is so heavy handed. Up till now, not much accountability comes with the pelf that accrues from this government greed. What happens to the money collected at the habor? Where are the good roads?
What is a used car? As soon as one drives a brand new car off the dealer’s lot, it becomes a used car. Therefore, the thought of banning used cars is not only a waste of brain cells, but an exercise in futility and to be frank, industrial strength nonsense. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that a car’s age surely speaks to its performance or condition. What we need is a set of performance, environmental and structural automobile standards not the current policy of using a car’s age to determine cost. We can think better than the current policy indicates! What we have now is a crop of poor and shallow thinkers running the state of affairs in the country.
The problem is not second hand cars! The problem is the standards under which importation must be made. Ghana has a lot of useless smoking cars on the road because it is cheaper to pick these dead cars off the road in Europe and America and pay relatively far less to get them through customs in Ghana. This is because the relatively older/lower the price of your car, up to ten years, the less customs fees you pay. It follows logic that better cars cost more overseas. So, if people have to pay more to get better cars through customs then they might as well not send the best cars to Ghana. The bottom-line is that the policy rewards bad/old cars and punishes good/new cars that cost more overseas. Good, newer and well maintained cars are not cheap! This misguided Ghanaian idea of always getting value but paying close to nothing must be surgically removed from our mindset.
The other aspect of this mind torturing import policy is the mindset of our people. Take for example, two cars of same year. One has 200,000 miles on it and the other has 50,000 miles on it. The one with 200,000 miles is selling for $5,000 in Ghana. The other one with 50,000 miles is selling for maybe $8,000. Guess which one will sell first? This is assuming that the buyer has $8000 to spend. The buyer will more likely buy the $5000/200,000 miles car. All I am trying to say here is that the Ghanaian public needs a crash course in buying used cars. I understand people are poor or cannot afford expensive cars but that is not a reason to spend your precious money on rotten or dead cars only to need a new car in a few years. So long as the demand for cheap rotten cars remains in Ghana, it will be met. Some Ghanaians just don’t know what the definition of a good car is. Buying a car on aesthetics, instead of quality metrics, is a troubling mainstay in Ghana.

The Solution to the problem:
Is Sherry Ayittey and her research team aware of car inspections? All the government of Ghana has to do is set up well run car inspections centers near all the ports of entry. Every vehicle that comes into the country must pass through these centers. These vehicles must meet emissions, structural and performance inspections before hitting the road. Based on pre-published quality standards, all in-coming cars must be inspected. If and when these cars fail inspections, they should not be credentialed to ply the roads in the country. Vehicle owners will have a month or two to fix their cars or have them auctioned off. In cases where vehicles are in very bad shape, they can be auctioned off as salvage vehicles, fit only for parts. I believe this is the surest way to make sure that only healthy cars get into the system. In addition, a clearly articulated import standards, will help importers make sure that their vehicles meet these standards before shipping.
I know you are probably wondering about accidents cars! Well, the same applies. They should never be credentialed until they are fixed and rigorously tested to meet road worthy specifications. Inspecting officers have to sign off on their inspections so that they can be held responsible if the car does not perform to expectation.
Let me lastly say this, a system is as good as the people that run it. Therefore, no matter how good a system you put in place, until the people running it understand the importance and goals of that system, it will never accomplish its goals. What I have proposed above is nothing new and does work in the US. It works because the public servants that run it do not take bribes and will not pass a car that is not road worthy. Can we say the same for Ghana our beloved? Is this not the bane of our challenge? If we change our systems and the mindset, progress will surely erupt. Instead of throwing road blocks because we have the power to, why don’t we simply ask: How best can we do this or that? A fresh appreciative inquiry approach may not be a bad idea after all.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Also known as the Double Edge Sword)

I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell).