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GOVERNMENT’s POLICY IS UNPOPULAR!
Since the Ministry of Transport and Aviation and the Sierra Leone Roads Safety Authority (SLRSA) banned right hand vehicles in the country in January this year, there had been dissenting voices vehemently disagreeing with Government’s decision to place such ban on right hand vehicles. The first prominent Sierra Leonean to have disagreed with the new policy was the Sierra Leone High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, HE Edward Turay, who raised rubble and advised the Minister of Transport and Aviation to reconsider the decision despite the High Commissioner being an old-guard politician of the governing All People’s Congress (APC) party.
Another stakeholder that strongly challenged the ban on right hand vehicles was the President of the Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers Union, Alpha Bah, who made an appeal to the President in a recent news conference to extend the band. According to him, the ban is “totally and absolutely untimely because it will promote the chain of transmission of the deadly Ebola disease through overcrowding of passengers and commuters at lorry and bus parks across the country.”
The ban placed on right hand vehicles this year would have taken effect since 2013 but the Ministry of Transport and Aviation and the SLRTA now SLRSA gave owners of right hand vehicles a grace period to convert their vehicles so that the pending ban would not affect them. The Government however banned the importation of all right hand vehicles into the country in 2013 whilst the ones in the country were supposed to be converted before an official prohibition. By banning all right hand vehicles, Government has indeed proved its rigidity over the issue in spite of public outcry. But how would this policy benefit the Government and the people of this country majority of whom rely more or less on public transportation?
Prior to banning right hand vehicles in the country, the Ministry of Transport and Aviation and the SLRSA sensitized the public on the reasons for the ban. Notable amongst the reasons was for road safety as right hand vehicles are frequently involved in accidents as compared to left hand vehicles which are very suitable for the traffic system of Sierra Leone. Both institutions embarked on nationwide safety campaign for people to understand that a ban would be placed on right hand vehicles for their own safety. Other stakeholders such as the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers Union were also involved in the safety campaign though the latter had from the onset disagreed with the ban.
It is often said in common parlance that after God it is Government, meaning that nothing is greater than Government except God. Therefore, any law-abiding citizen is bound to respect the laws of the country such as the ban placed on right hand vehicles by Government. But certain laws could be counterproductive especially those that are not in the interest of the public. This ban policy, if not revisited by the appropriate authorities, could make the APC Government very unpopular because the ban placed on right hand vehicles has more disadvantages than merits.
The ban placed on right hand vehicles is serious disadvantage to our Sierra Leonean compatriots in the Diaspora who used to ship them to their relatives back home to sustain their lives or embark on development projects on their behalf given the appalling socio-economic situation which the APC Government has not been able to handle as promised. Thousands of people at home who used to benefit from such opportunity have been left in economic doldrums as their condemned right hand vehicles are no longer a source of income for them but to look forward to getting remittances from their loved ones abroad. This could raise dissenting voices in several quarters both at home and abroad because the policy is truly not “people-centered.” It was no mistake that the Sierra Leone High Commissioner to the UK lashed out at Government for the infamous policy.
Besides, the ban has left hundreds of Sierra Leonean drivers jobless. According to the President of the Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers Union, about 513 vehicles that are right hand have been parked thereby worsening the acute transportation problem across the country. Where do you expect these poor drivers to be employed when unemployment is very massive in the country? It is more like adding perjury to their injuries especially when the impoverished people have become more disgruntled than ever before. The drivers would be sitting on their ‘long bench’ day in and day out waiting for divine intervention.
Exception to the ban gives the impression that our Government cares more about public institutions than the people who elected it to power. Why should Government ban right hand commercial vehicles but allow institutional vehicles with right hand to ply the streets? For instance, right hand vehicles belonging to the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), Sierra Leone Police (SLP), Statistics Sierra Leone, Government ambulances, MASADA and others are still using their right hand vehicles while right hand commercial vehicles on which the populace largely depends to travel have been banned all together. Are our policy makers treating the voting populace fairly?
Again, Government would have put modalities in place for the conversion of right hand vehicles before placing the ban on them; it did not. Instead, conversion is done by private vehicle mechanics that are not well grounded in the conversion work. When pronouncement of the ban was initially made, many people attempted to convert their right hand vehicles but painfully realized that the conversion resulted to mechanic failure, tracking and electrical problems. And in spite of the fact that they are not perfect in the conversion work, vehicle mechanics often charge the whooping sum of six million Leones for each conversion and this is unrealistic in this time of unprecedented economic hardship in the country.
As grassroots Government, one would expect any of its policy to be “people-centered” especially when the governing APC was supposedly built on the ideology of Socialism. They have the majority grassroots support ranging from touts to traders, drivers, Okada riders and the ordinary man in the street that are being greatly affected by the so-called ban on right hand vehicles.
In my humble opinion, what Government should do is to maintain the ban on the importation of right hand vehicles and lift the ban on those that have been licensed to run as either commercial or private vehicles. With time, they could no longer be road worthy and that would be the period Sierra Leone would no longer have right hand vehicles. That is my stand on the issue.