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Opinions of Saturday, 15 July 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Smartly Improving Our Roads Of Hell ..

.. Lack Of Leadership And Citizen Involvement.

I traveled to and through 7 regions on my recent visit to Ghana. There is no doubt that efforts have and continue to be made to improve our roads. There is a lot more to be done though. BTW, why do these road construction projects take forever while cost spiral out of control? I wish we didn’t have to borrow and service huge loans to build our roads but heck we even borrow to eat so what is new? Without a viable tax base, borrowing for capital projects and improvement seem to be the only alternative. Since our infrastructure and services are free to citizens, how do we pay back these loans? Can we continue this “something for nothing” racket forever? Do we intend to be a debtor nation for life? Barring the discovery of some natural resource like oil, how do we intend to end the debt cycle? I look forward to those days when central government, regions or cities can sell bonds to finance capital projects. Borrowing from the people is a much healthier way of financing projects! Have we tried this method yet?

Tractor trailers and other cargo vehicles are overloading recklessly in Ghana without a care. Evidence of the latter can be found in trucks that turn on their sides around the curves. Note that there is no Hazardous Material clean up after these reckless accidents. There goes our pristine environment!! On my way from Sunyani through Kumasi, I counted at least three trucks that were lying on their sides with goods spilled all over the place. I believe we saw one weigh station between Accra and Sunyani. Sadly, no one was working the weigh station. Even if they did, I doubt if any truck will be held up there by night fall. For some reason, all our mechanisms designed to ensure traffic compliance never serve as the catch basin they are designed to be. The presence of numerous police check points piqued by curiosity. Despites these check points, these overloaded trucks, goods knifing the sky, continued flawlessly on their merry way. These trucks are designed with stipulated capacities, so why allow them, in the name of greed and maximization of profits to continue bending the law and destroying our roads? Let me illustrate. When these tractor trailers overload, the trucks end up crawling on the road, and poisoning the environment with thick smoke. This in turn forces other vehicles to overtake them at dangerous and unacceptable points. The net result is the slew of accidents that we continue to witness. Why can’t we get serious with this simple issue? What will it take to tell a driver to reduce his goods or stay put? Do this a couple of times and the message will stick. As it stands, the drivers have no fear and the police loves the cash flow while the citizens suffer. Our road problems are all man made!

The signage on our highways needs some improvement. Visibility is crucial in conforming to road requirements. First of all, one is not able to read these signs at night because reflectors was not used for most signs. Yes, I expect overall changes but realistically, I know we will not get to the old signs anytime soon. So, can we use reflectors going forward? We must see the speed signs so that we comply. We have to see that “Dangerous Curve” sign so that we don’t fall victim. Another concern is inadequate information on these signs and a lack of exits. All the sign does is to point you in a direction. It does not tell you the mileage from where you are. Try entering Amasaman for example, and there is no exit. One has to go to the next village, Atoman, wrongly spelt “Toman” on the existing road sign before you can make a U-turn and ride the roughest road on earth to get into Amasaman. We need clear signs that allows motorist to exit off the roads to avoid accidents. Safety should be our number one priority. Do something! You can smartly create jobs by getting this done!

From Kumasi to Accra, we counted at least 6 fresh accidents. My friends, the spate of accidents on our roads is very real. The situation calls for emergency efforts to stop the carnage. You have to see it in living color to believe it. In some instances, people were bleeding from injuries right before our eyes. The police officers just pranced helplessly back and forth with guns drawn and flailing. As if to show their manhood or testosterone level! So, whatever happened to first aid? Whatever happened to CPR? What if we require all first responders to learn and administer CPR and first aid? Does it not make sense? Since they are almost always the first to arrive on the scene, why not teach them enough first aid skills to stabilize those who are hurt at the scene of an accident? There is nothing so disconcerting as to see a bleeding and wailing woman walking in a daze to nowhere in particular at an accident scene. I mean as helpless and countless others watch on, some, trying to bring her forcibly to rest. My oh my! If this does not get your blood curdling then I don’t know what will. Give your MPs serious tongue lashing on this issue. Ask them to do something to save lives. We need all the dying folks! Yes we do!

Road conditions are not the best but driver error as a result of bad judgment and faulty vehicles are the main causes of accidents in Ghana. For commercial vehicles, the latter is oxygenated by greed. Drivers basically try to squeeze water out of stone. Of course they will tell you that their owners are shylocks in their own right. I am frankly tired of the excuses and stories. We have to get serious with these drivers. If only we can revamp law enforcement on the roads, things may improve. I have totally given up on the police and I won’t even bother wasting my ink on what to do with the police. Our police force is beyond redemption. It is not good news but what do you do with the deep rot in the force? Do you know that it will not be far fetched to claim that the police contribute to the murder on the roads by allowing vehicles that are not road worthy to continue plying the road? Why can’t they at least force these drivers to correct the problem even after they’ve taken their bribes? The more we complain the more they take bribes. I mean they will take bribes even for a headlight bulb that went out a few seconds ago without the driver knowing so. Folks, the police force is out of hand and I don’t have a clue about how to rope it in. Maybe wayside judges to administer instant justice may help or just get them out of traffic enforcement. As it stands, they are not making a difference and we can do without their bribes. Do we have to privatize traffic enforcement to make this work? My holy Gawd!

Road construction is also another problem that motorists face. I will never forget a road sign that made me really chuckle. The sign read, “Dangerous Curve Ahead”. So, I asked my traveling mate this, “since when have they known that this curve is dangerous”? I mean is it just enough to put such a sign there permanently, or should the authorities redesign that part of the road to eliminate the danger? We behave as if we have no control over our environment or situation. Once a road is constructed, must it stay that way forever? Can we collect formative feedback and redesign that portion or segment of the road if it is indeed dangerous? If the curve is dangerous, why not correct it instead of warning us about it permanently? How many drivers can read this sign let alone understand it? We have to learn to correct mistakes instead of assuming that it is Ok to live with them. What happened to Andam’s engineers from KNUST? Can they help with road redesign? From now on, let the authorities correct the problems and take off these permanent warning signs. Solve the problems!! Let us control what we can and live with the rest. This may also make the case for strong local government to draw attention to such situation on the ground. If an MP cannot influence the minister of roads to correct such in his locality, what use is he or she? Where is Amoateng when you need him? Are we in a democracy yet?

On my way to Takoradi, the only toll we paid was at the Beposo Bridge. Even so, it was only 500 Cedis. Five hundred Cedis is about 6 cents. Tema motor way also attracts the same toll amount for cars. My friends, these tolls as they exist are a complete joke. Even to the poor Ghanaian, five hundred Cedis can only buy one or two sachets of water. Try giving a relative 500 Cedis or better still, tip a waitress five hundred Cedis and see what service you will get. The government must immediately consider increasing the tolls reasonably. Use all the revenue from these tolls to maintain and build more roads. All monies collected from tolls must be stashed in a dedicated road building and enhancement account. Cut back the overhead, develop a plan of action and go to work. You can create jobs this way. Use this revenue stream plus some of the levies on imported cars to begin building and maintaining the road network. BWT is it true that the collection of revenues on the Tema Motor way has been privatized?

Folks, our road networks are poor and there is more work to be done to get the nation networked. This idea of taking loans from outside the country to build roads and then leave them not maintained for years is not only working but bankrupting us big time. Keep in mind that the real work lies in maintaining what is built. We have to institute a maintenance culture if we want to stop borrowing to build all the time. It is my humble opinion that tolling all highways in Ghana is the best way to fund roads throughout the country. Tolls in my opinion, are the only taxes that will impact all. Everyone uses the road so let us all contribute to maintain what we have and build some more. Look, these tractor trailers (articulators) and tipper trucks are the hardest on our roads. They overload and continue to use our roads like no other. Now, must we not toll them proportionately to maintain and build new roads? Is that not what prevails in most advanced countries? The traders or owners of the goods carted by these monstrous trucks make huge profits and it should not be a shame or tagged retrogressive to ask them to contribute their fair share to road maintenance.

Local authorities must also be empowered to toll some of these arterial roads that run off the main roads to the villages. Activities by tipper trucks are the hardest on these feeder roads. Given the cost of sand for building, why should these trucks not be tolled to help pay for maintaining the roads. Never mind the unending dust that they stir up for poor residents. The time for free lunches in Ghana must end. Folks engaged in heavy commercial activity should take the lead in paying for the maintenance of our roads and any other utilities that they enjoy. Our tax base is narrow so those who benefit the most must be asked to sacrifice the most. We can saddle our kids and the future generation with debt or pull ourselves by our bootstraps. If the people want good roads, give them good roads but let them know that good roads are not free. We can’t continue to expect good infrastructure if we don’t want to pay for it. If you use it, you must pay for it.

The other formula that may work is private investment in roads. Here is what I see. Ask private investors to construct some of these roads. Then agree with them on a reasonable toll rate. Additionally, agree with them on their profit level. Once they recoup cost and make their profit, they transfer the road over to government to maintain. In this way, the government will not be saddled with loans and the roads will be constructed as well. Folks, we have to be creative but vigilant. The formula that we’ve used in the past has not worked well and it is time that we tweak it. This idea of going for loans, servicing such ad infinitum and then asking for forgiveness is a sad commentary on who we are as a nation. We behave as if we are shavelings just trying to grasp the way of life. We must grow up and prove to the world that we can take control of our destiny. Begging is an assault on our human dignity and it is time to find constructive ways to wean off. Here again, we ask for bold leadership. Toll all the fat trucks! Yes we can!!



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