Masters of the Road

Published on December 2016 | Categories: Documents | Downloads: 28 | Comments: 0 | Views: 307
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Issues relating to road governance and policing in Ghana

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MASTERS OF THE ROAD In the year 2008 it was reported on the air waves that at the Dansoman - Mallam Junction, Accra there was a man with mental disorder coordinating traffic. Apparently he had been doing it for an hour or so till things began to get out of hand when people realized the traffic warden was mad. Though the mentally disordered man’s prolonged conduction of traffic over the hours began to produce chaos, he initially saw the traffic crisis at the junction and opted to help – in any case his services calmed the commotion at the junction initially. The irony of the whole episode was that a psychologically unstable man was trying to stabilize a traffic commotion! Maybe this is an extreme case of the normal citizenry trying to maintain law, order and sanity on their streets and in their neighborhoods. However there are thousands of examples of such acts counting from mob justice, citizens’ area watch, creation of satellite taxi ranks serving remote locations, hawking on streets to middle men working to facilitate processes at government agencies, departments and institutions. Interestingly all these things, some may call them necessary evils, help to make daily living easier and more convenient. The only problem is how sustainable and safe these activities are. Are they a recipe for disaster or a ticking time bomb waiting to explode? If one would want to examine each of them loads of papers will not be able to fully analyze them. Nonetheless a few of them that are incessantly troubling is the control of traffic and repair of roads by so called area boys. These boys are often found at junctions where there is a lot of conflicting traffic movement. One cannot exactly tell who or how they are employed but they are there just when the traffic conflict is at its cadence, whether day or night. What they wear often shabby, their language rude and conducting crude, they somehow manage to get the job done. The description is not different for those who do repairs on deteriorated road sections. The only difference is that in the latter’s work he carries a tool, maybe a spade or pickaxe. The distinctively common thing about their activities is that for every vehicle that by passes them they have an outstretched hand soliciting for money for services rendered. After all such services are needed and they are the most readily available suppliers, and off course a worker is worth his wages. If you haven’t seen one before, try the bridge near the abattoir connecting Community 20, Tema to the motor way or when the police or NYEP (National Youth Employment Programme) wardens leave their posts at some major intersections in Accra at peak hours after 5pm, incredibly. In effect the public pay surcharges on taxes paid to the MTTU (Motor Traffic and Transport Unit) of the Police Service which is responsible for the control and

management of traffic and the Department of Urban Roads which collaborates with the Metropolises and Municipals for the maintenance of roads in urban areas. The Ghana Highway Authority is not left out of these supposedly responsible institutions since it also has the duty of maintaining the trunk roads in Ghana. It is always a relieving site to have these area boys come to our rescue and support when our institutions fail us but how sustainable or secure are their services, not to mention the growing and unbecoming nature of it in recent times. It has become a regular norm for the boys to identify problematic spots of the road section in their area where they camp and assume duties pretending to be repairing it, though some may do it genuinely. Some have made it a source of income and one can say have high jacked problematic sections of the roads for perpetual repair works. In some localities there are cliques of area boys’ repairers or traffic wardens who operate in turns or jurisdictions. In other places the area boys coerce with hawkers or robbers. With hawkers, they arrange to cause congestions such that commuters can purchase items from the hawkers with ease. In the diabolic case where they coerce with robbers, they function as decoys causing distractions such that thieves can steal from passing vehicles. A milder way of extorting money from you is bluntly letting you know that if you don’t give them something there is no way they are going to let you through. Implicitly they make one aware they are the mobile toll booths. Deliberately if one avoids them and manages to go through without paying royalties he or she is parted with, with curses and insults. One would say they are doing a fairly good job but looking at their activities with an engineering lens it is frightening to know that the kind of materials sometimes used to fill potholes leads to further deteriorations in the long term. Ignorant about the repercussions of their activities some create more lumps by just piling rubbles in potholes. They disrupt the drainage ability of the riding surface making it less convenient and comfortable for motoring. In discharging their self employed traffic coordination duties they make unreasonable judgments sometimes which even the authorized conductors are perpetrators of but not regularly. They have their own hand throwing gestures which seemingly signal opposing traffic to move simultaneously – very terrible indeed. In locations where they man road sections with bottlenecks which require a stream of traffic to pass through at a time, they have created a system whereby they count the number of vehicles for one stream and count the same number likewise for the other stream. It works occasionally but without taking cognizance of the queues and their spill backs into other heavy

trafficked link roads it can be problematic. A typical situation is found at the bridge close to the abattoir adjacent the motorway at night where, by even allocation of a number of vehicles from one direction crossing the bridge and the same for the opposing stream, the queue forming on the section near the abattoir spills back and totally blocks traffic movement on the motorway whiles the queue in the direction of Community 20 does not lead to any harm. Questions that remain begging are; what do the police do when they get to such locations manned by these area boys - do they give them their doles or a part on the back? What happens when they get knocked down by a vehicle – will it be death in the line of duty or careless interruption of traffic? There remain countless unanswered questions on regulation, accountability and safety. A possible solution could be the introduction of a modern Turnpike Trust, a situation where localities receive permits from the local authorities to undertake repair works on a section of the roads in their vicinity in exchange for money. This was a concept used in the 18th century in Britain for maintaining their highways. In this system people in localities known as trustees are empowered with permits to control sections of highways, effecting repairs and collecting money over a period of years and then the delegated responsibility given back to the authorities for re- tendering. This in our local parlance would be termed ‘Power to the People’ an improvement of the decentralization process and the involvement of locals in the development of their communities. Or an improvement of the NYEP in road maintenance would help rid these boys from the streets into a more regulated form of road maintenance. The question also there is; would they be able to cover all the roads requiring maintenance? Can they really identify and quantify the urgency and importance of maintenance in a particular locality as compared to the residents? These and other many questions need to be answered. The site of an unsafe, unregulated and unsustainable management of problematic road sections by area boys is alarming and if nothing is done about it may deteriorate into the creation of scattered satellite ownership and mastery of our roads. Similar problem have been created by the unregulation of hawkers on the streets, roads used as washing bays, taxi ranks on bus lay-bys, kiosks and shops encroaching on road space etc, and if care is not taken the canker may spread beyond control. As the old saying goes, ‘Prevention is better than cure’, and something must be done quickly to curtail such activities before we encounter a similar problem like the uncontrolled sale of land and building of houses in unauthorized locations. The least that can be done is for government to strengthen, expand and equip our institutions mandated to maintain our roads and control traffic such that they are able

to quickly and reliably attend to problematic sections of our road network. Roads in Ghana are a property of the government under the management of regulatory bodies under it and as such should be well managed to maximize social welfare. Meanwhile the authorities must encourage the normal citizenry to desist from such unwarranted Samaritan deeds and rather importune the Regional, Metropolitan, Municipal authorities to do their duties instead of providing their own palliative solutions which may not last long. Who manages problematic sections of our roads must be clearly defined and managed. Author: Kwasi Agyeman-Boakye, Bsc, MSc (Eng), Transport Infrastructure and Services Specialist, [email protected]

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