Opinion

On the ban on Right-hand Vehicles in Sierra Leone

5 October 2013 at 00:48 | 2534 views

By Tony Bee, Sydney, Australia.

The recent announcement made by the newly appointed Minister of Transportation and Aviation, Hon. Leonard Balogun Koroma regarding the banning of right hand vehicles entering the country brought about mixed feelings amongst Sierra Leoneans living in the country and those abroad, especially Australia.

Further, the ban on the export of used or second-hand right hand vehicles to the country has upset and angered many Sierra Leoneans as those that have already been in the country would only have a one year grace period to exist in the country.

Nevertheless, the mixed feelings that such statements have caused highlight that law and order should be enforced to benefit every Sierra Leonean, especially in terms of the safety of their lives. Therefore, any Sierra Leonean patriot and supporter of progress and development should not politicize or totally condemn such law enforcement in the country. Therefore, I am not against the banning of such vehicles in the country.

But at the same time, I have concerns about the immediate enforcement of the aforementioned laws at this economically difficult time in the country. A time when the poor people are fighting tooth and nail to make ends meet for their family through these vehicles.

In view of that, I do believe that my concern is like those of many other patriotic and peaceful Sierra Leoneans. Such concerns are the timing of the ban and the costs and effects associated with such action on the average Sierra Leonean, particularly those living in the country during this high cost of living and unemployment period in the country.

I question whether Minister Balogun is aware of the detrimental effects such an immediate ban will cause on the Sierra Leoneans who are financially struggling and living on a day’s meal and how such ban will also affect government social and politically?

If Minister Balogun is not aware of the repercussions of his statements and enforcement of such immediate bans, both himself and the APC government should consider all other alternatives before impacting on so many vulnerable lives in the country. In one to two years time, since the enforcement of this ban, there will be additional economic hardship in the country that will have immediate effects on the APC government both now and in the future whether directly or indirectly.

Many families in Sierra Leone have relatives and friends overseas who live in countries where only right hand drive vehicles are available, including Australia and Britain. Therefore, they send the right hand vehicles to their families to assist them in their daily survival. If such a ban is to take serious affect, the vehicles that are already in the country, and used by individuals to provide for their family, will result in direct unemployment for those who require a vehicle for their employment needs. As a result, this will surely create another economic crisis in the country through an increase in unemployment rates while at the same time creating a breeding ground for criminal activities producing further problems in the country, especially for the APC government.

Therefore, for the progress and development of the country, I think the right hand vehicles that are already in the country should be free from any form or forms of ban because of the socio-economic benefit that the country is deriving from them currently and also for the sake of the number of families, relatives and friends that are surviving from such vehicles.

In my view, I believe some of the main reasons been given by government and others for the banning of right hand vehicles from entering the country are not completely convincing. Firstly, I would like to make one point clear for those who state that it is because right hand vehicles are cheaper abroad than the left hand that is why people are importing them into the country; this is simply incorrect and untrue.

All vehicles all over the world are expensive be it left or right, it depends on what type or year you want and which country one finds him or herself or you may want to buy your vehicle from, especially in terms of foreign currency. For instance, Australia right hand vehicles are expensive like any left hand vehicles in Europe or America, it’s depends on the make or model age you want and the foreign exchange rates for your country of interest in buying the vehicle/s.

The excuse or reasons given by government which state that it is the right hand vehicles that are causing or responsible for the happenings of many serious accidents in the country are not also totally correct in my view. Even the left hand vehicles in the country are also great contributors to the many serious accidents that are taking place in the country.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying that the right hand vehicles are not causing serious accidents in the country but I am talking about the way in which many people are naively propagating or politicizing the right hand vehicles issue, especially enemies of progress and development, leaving behind some of the main causes of accidents in the country that need to be addressed.

A couple of months ago, I was in the country, Sierra Leone and I used the transport system, hence, I know what I am talking about. I used all the available means of transportation in the country, especially motorcycle (okada), taxi and poda-poda to know what is happening in the country. For example, there was a time when I had a very serious argument with a taxi driver when I boarded his car because of his not being polite as a business man.

When I boarded his car, I asked him where he was going he told me, but because of their lawlessness and lake of discipline, they normally stop half way with passengers without reaching their final destinations. In view of that I was not convinced when he told me where he was going; I asked him once more at that stage, he shouted at me, carndon na-me motorcar (get down from my car) I don tell you wesi ar da go, (I have told you where I am going) he roared like a lion at me. One of the passengers in the car said to him the “man has right to ask you to make sure that you are going direct to where he is going” and he responded no, he should not ask me twice.

I will not tell you the other experience I had with one four wheel vehicle driver who was in a black suit. He was coming by State House and I was crossing by the cotton tree round about zebra crossing; he did not want to stop and wait for me to cross. As such, I stood at the centre of the zebra crossing and told him to hit me. Another similar incident was at Percival Street zebra crossing, a private vehicle driver so-called big man behaved in the same crazy lawless and reckless way like the first one.

I was really walking by foot to do my research about happenings of the country. I will not also tell you my experience about some of the indisciplined lawless drivers and some of the unlawful corrupt barriers called police checkpoints when I was traveling to the provinces to do my assignment that I went for.

All that I am trying to point out to Mr. Minister and the APC government is some of the causes of many serious accidents in the country, in my view, are not only about vehicles being on the right or left hand drive. The loss of many precious innocent lives in the country as many people perceive without doing proper research about the causes of many serious accidents in the country are diverse.

Many drivers are too indisciplined; there are many lawless and crazy drivers in the country. Many of them drive without valid driving licenses. I mean both private and commercial drivers in the country. Likewise many okadas and vehicles plying all over the country without valid licenses and even other moveable machines, for example what happened recently at Freetown Water Quay when one of the bulldozer machines alleged to have killed one innocent pdestrian;I am told that it was not licensed. Untrained and unqualified persons are also driving in the country, including commercial and private vehicle drivers.

Many drivers do not obey traffic rules, including traffic signs; drink and drive, take drugs while driving, use mobile phone while driving, talk to girl friends while driving, overload and recklessly speed away. Of course for private car drivers, they always feel and think that they are above the law in the country, especially the politicians and the so-called senior civil servants and also some of the law enforcement officers who are supposed to be a good role models in the country. They are the ones that do not obey the traffic rules and the laws of the country in general.

If you think I am telling a lies please ask the Mayor of Freetown; he will tell you about the number of senior politicians and senior civil servants that are tax evaders in the country while they are depriving and suppressing the poor and needy fellow Sierra Leoneans from getting their daily bread, by forcing them to obey the laws that they are deliberately refusing to obey because of their positions or status in the country. May glory continue to be to you Mayor Gibson of Freetown City Council for letting us know these unpatriotic law breakers in the country.

Some of the law enforcement officers, especially the traffic police are also responsible for the serious accidents that are taking place in the country, because of their double standards in terms of enforcing the laws of the state. Particularly in connection with their bribe-taking from drivers; as longer as they finished receiving their bribes from drivers for their corrupt “Osusu” contributions they will not want to know whether a driver is overloading, is speeding, drunk or whether he or she has a valid driving license or the vehicle has a valid license; that is not their business.

Their business is to make money at the expense of the precious lives of their fellow citizens whose tax money they receive as salary every end of month. At the same time they have a corrupt “operation pay yourself”. Due to their corrupt way of life (culture) in the country, vehicle drivers and okada riders do not have respect for them (police), including the general public. Do not ask me if the police are taking bribes all over the country; ask the drivers and the general public they will tell you more about that. However, there are few good and fine professional police officers in the country who always put the interest of the nation first above corrupt practices.

However, I do not really know if the laws of Sierra Leone permit a police man or woman to board a driver’s vehicle and sit in front with the driver when he or she arrests him or her for traffic offence and take the driver to a corner rather than issuing him or her a ticket or fine and take his or her driving particulars immediately, including driving license number and vehicle number, without having too much of talking with the driver, as it is done in Europe, America and Australia.

I saw many occasions when police were behaving in such unprofessional way when I was in Freetown walking along the streets to get my good and ugly experiences in the country, especially along New England Ville, Sander Street, Siaka Stevens Street and Kroo Town Road junction and Up gun round about.

According to the above mentioned reasons tell me why many serious accidents should not take place in the country. People do things as they like without regard for the law. Even the so-called big men and women behave the same crazy lawless way like some of our illiterate people in the country.

As I said, I am not against the banning of the right hand vehicles in the country but I think before that will take serious effect I would like to suggest the following basic things that I think should be put in their correct places:

-Before, any individual would start to drive he or she should have to undertake serious driving training, including the meaning of road signs before he or she should be issued a license
Driving tests should be compulsory but no bribe taking because that should not be another way of making money for corrupt officials.

-Drink driving and drugs taking while driving laws or penalties should be enforced, including fine and license suspension without fear or favour (there should be no big man or big woman in the eyes of the law)

-Mobile phone use during driving laws or penalty should be enforced, including license suspension

-Traffic road signs, especially speed limit signs and zebra-crossing should be improved

-Road bumps should be increased to minimize speeding.

- More attention should be paid to road maintenance.

-Over loading laws or penalties should be enforced and above all the law implementing or enforcing agencies, including the police, especially the traffic police should stop taking bribes from drivers and okada riders if they really want to enforce the laws of the state to the fullest.

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