THE expensive confusion that reigned in the country for about three days cannot pass without a critical look. To me, one thing is certain, that is, we turned into ostriches, burying our heads in the sand to avoid seeing the reality, or pretending the danger can pass-by without seeing us (in this case without negatively impacting on us).
No, I think to put it more boldly, we are postponing the problem - a time bomb - instead of solving it or diffusing it now. I am referring to the bus and cargo trucks mayhem earlier in the week when bus operators joined hands with cargo truck operators in an embarrassing and costly but unnecessary boycott, or strike, if you like.
What happened was that truck and up-country bus owners staged a boycott since last Monday to protest against government abolition of five per cent allowable weight for overloaded cargo trucks and buses. A press release issued by the Ministry of Works on October 1st stated that the five per cent allowable weight has been abolished and all cargo motor vehicles with minimum capacity of 3.5 tonnes will now have to go through weighbridges.
It read in part thus: "The Minister responsible for roads has abolished a directive issued through letter with Ref. No. CKA/16/419/09 of July 2006 which gave exemptions from penalty all trucks overloaded cargo within five per cent allowable weight which is acceptable by law."
The release went on to state that any vehicle found to have excess cargo but within five per cent allowable weight will be required to offload the excess weight, readjust the cargo or pay a penalty four times the normal penalty of 100 US dollars, translating into over 160,000 shillings per tonne.
And so, the cargo truck owners and upcountry bus operators went up in arms against the minister's decision developing into the boycott the brunt of which was borne by upcountry passengers. The government too, felt the pinch in terms of non-revenue collection. The Dar es Salaam port was congested with unmoved cargo and the trucks.
Was the government wrong in abolishing the five per cent allowable weight? Wasn't the Minister simply implementing, strictly, the law passed by the Parliament? Did the law contravene the Constitution? Was the directive Ref. No. CKA/16/419/09 of July 2006 issued by the same ministry?
What were the circumstances under which such a directive was issued, setting aside the law? Are the reasons still valid? These are some of the questions some people ask and they demand answers. Before the government reversed its decision to abolish the five per cent allowable weight, Minister Magufuli explicitly said when defending the government stand in abolishing the allowable weight that he was implementing the prevailing law.
But he also said the main reason behind the move was to save the roads from destruction by the heavy cargo trucks. And this has seen the government and its agency, TANROADS cry all through the roads were being misused, so to speak, by allowing heavy trucks to ply on them, truck carrying cargo too heavy for the roads to bear.
We should also bear in mind that Tanzania is one of the few countries in this part of the world which allow their roads to be plied by trucks with cargo of up to 56 tonnes. Yet some people think that is not enough, they want our roads, most of them constructed below standards, to carry over 60 tonnes.
The European Union (EU), which is far more developed that our country allows on between 40 and 45 tonne-trucks on their roads, while the US allows only 36 tonnes.
Often we are told road construction and maintenance is damn expensive, yet we allow them to be destroyed wantonly by money minded transporters destroys in the process the same infrastructure they depend on for their wealth accumulation.
Another area which has not been made clear is that there are some transport companies which are on record for abiding by the law as far as cargo weight is concerned.
Why is it that other transporters find it so difficult to do so? Yes, our government 'ni sikivu', but 'mtoto umleavyo ndivyo akuavyo' for which I cannot find a fitting English version; closer to it maybe something like spare the rod and spoil the child, it is a case of giving the transporters a yard and they will soon claim a mile.
Who own these trucks and buses which always look for loopholes to go around the law and 'win' the government's ear? Our roads will never be safe unless an alternative is found. This alternative has been there always, except that it has been strangled, suffocated and disabled. I am referring to the railway network.
We have the central railway and we have Tazara, facilities that were meant for heavy duty cargo and thus release the pressure on our roads. They are less expensive and have a far much larger capacity than the roads. And the government and all stakeholders can not dispute this reality.
In fact the government has more often than not talked about reviving the railway network, but nothing or very little seem to be taking place. People talk of sabotage mainly by truck owners who have a clout, and most likely are in the decision making team or those who can intimidate, or influence, if you want, the decision makers.
This country is not called 'Bongoland' for nothing. Let us not infringe upon the very laws we make for the good of the nation