19 April 2017

Uganda: Fighting 'Bad' Vehicles Alone Is Not Enough to Secure Our Lives On Roads

Photo: Eronie Kamukama/Daily Monitor
A vehicle in poor mechanical condition. Many Ugandans believe that although mandatory vehicle inspection is good, it is just one of the many avenues government can take to reduce road accidents.

In December last year, a Swiss company, Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS), was contracted by government of Uganda to carry out mandatory vehicle inspections in order to curb the high rate of accidents and emissions caused by vehicles in poor mechanical conditions.

Sticky issues

A number of issues, however, have been raised by the public since then, contesting the exercise and the fees charged.

Many have had the impression that since government bodies such as the Inspectorate of Vehicles (IoV) and Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) do inspection and certify standards, contracting another body amounts to duplication of mandates and wastage of public resources.

Some have contested the manner in which the five-year contract was awarded to SGS, and whether the inspectors were indeed accredited by the vehicle manufacturers.

This is not to say that the SGS capacity to undertake the exercise is questioned.

But motorists have been disappointed by the concealment of information on the processes and procedures.

Clarification

Government has, however, clarified that although the IoV, the Customs Department, and UNBS undertake inspection, they all do so on behalf of the ministry of Works.

Vehicle inspection may be outsourced, especially if these agencies lack the requisite capacities.

SGS competed for this assignment and was found to have the required capacities, including expertise, experience and equipment.

The company has received delegated responsibility to execute this assignment on behalf of government and is among the top inspecting firms globally, according to the ministry of Works.

Government has also clarified that there was no need to have accreditation from the vehicle manufacturers as the exercise would not involve dismantling of vehicles.

Inspection engineers have been accredited and certified by a team of experts from Ivory Coast and they are doing a good job.

Government has also clarified that the deadline that had earlier been set for June 2017 shall be extended and inspection will run throughout the contract period.

However, the June deadline will remain for the commencement of enforcement and not for stopping the inspection.

Vehicles that are pre-inspected by Japan Export Vehicle Inspection Centre under the Pre-Inspection and Verification of Conformity system will only be re-subjected to inspection after a year.

Late information

The challenge we have though, as private sector, is that this information never comes out as quickly as the would-be beneficiaries of such policy would want it to and this is the biggest misgiving we have with policy makers.

Had this information come out clear and early enough, very few sections of the public would be contesting the rationale for inspection and inspection procedures.

The business community has also had the argument that government should review the tax regime to make it cheaper to import newer vehicles rather than reconditioned ones.

However, clarification has been given that the tax on old vehicles is already 113 per cent, while that on new ones is just 51 per cent.

It is also true that even if tax on new vehicles was reduced to zero, it would still be much more expensive for Ugandans to import new vehicles.

The remedy is to have a vehicle assembly plant here. Only this can substitute for the importation of old vehicles.

Meantime, the private sector will continue to lobby government to have the environmental levy expended at source rather than transferred to the Consolidated Fund - as long as it is fully accounted for.

It is this approach that will help address environmental challenges such as vehicle emissions through the polluter-pay-principle.

The private sector has always challenged government to ensure that we have an institutional arrangement to implement policies that are agreed.

Past experience

Sometime back, road users were forced to install and wear seatbelts as well as buy and wear helmets.

Owners of heavy commercial vehicles had to incur an extra cost of purchasing and having speed governors fitted in their vehicles.

Before long, the exercise was abandoned and today very few people wear seat belts while others simply buckle up without necessarily wearing them.

We see no more vigilance for wearing seatbelts or helmets/reflectors for boda bodas since then. There is too much laxity even where we have rules and regulations to enforce.

It is common to find traffic police officers standing by as boda bodas disregard the red lights at Wandegeya and other junctions in the city.

If the SGS inspection is to curb accidents, then much more must be done as there are many causes of accidents apart from the conditions of the vehicles on the road.

Lastly, any inspection is premised on the assumption that there are set standards and that such standards are well understood.

The question of standards

What standards should Ugandan vehicles have? Do we know them even before we proceed for inspection? And do such standards match with those of our roads? Should we be concerned more about having road-worthy vehicles or vehicle-worthy roads? Motorists especially in Kampala City are now forced to drive on the road that is left rather than on the left of the road as the law requires.

Our take as private sector is that we need to have a sober conversation on the leading causes of road accidents beyond merely vehicles in poor mechanical conditions. These will include drink-driving, porous licensing processes including a cramp down on fake driving permits, unmarked black spots, poorly built roads, and limited road maintenance, among others.

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