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Road of Death: Would the Ghanaian Parliament pass on an opportunity to fix the Accra–Kumasi Highway?

By E.M. Sackey & G. Adu Ofori
Article Road of Death: Would the Ghanaian Parliament pass on an opportunity to fix the Accra–Kumasi Highway?
DEC 1, 2021 LISTEN

Ghana has an astonishing road fatality rate; Available Government statistics indicate that between January to July 2021 there have been an excess of 9,520 motor accidents involving about 16,226 vehicles. 1 Not so shockingly, out of these, a total of more than 1,706 people were killed and 9,299 injured. One of the catalysts driving this is government negligence, which has over the years expedited unnecessary destruction of human lives and also impeding not only the mobility of citizens but also the country’s development. The recent event of the death of the police outrider on the security team of the Speaker of Parliament presents an opportune moment for Parliament to advance pragmatic steps including budgetary allocation and parliamentary oversight to fix this problem.

On August 6, 2021, the Parliament of Ghana reported the death of a first dispatch rider on the advance team of the Speaker. The report noted that, the team was enroute to Wa in the Upper West Region when the accident occurred, and that the outrider was killed when a speeding vehicle collided with his motorbike on the Kumasi – Nkawkaw stretch of the Accra – Kumasi highway. With this in mind and considering the infamy of the Ghanaian road infrastructure, especially the Accra – Kumasi

highway, the pressing issue becomes what should a prudent Parliament do in the aftermath? Statistically, this tragedy would be an add-on to the already numerous lives lost by the end of the year. Is sending condolences to the bereaved family all there is to do? Would doling out peanut monetary damages all a proactive government can do? Considering the fact that it was the advance security team that suffered this fate, would Parliament have done something different if it was the Speaker whose life was cut short?

Ordinarily, the thought that Parliament would permit the death of the outrider to become an insignificant statistic ought to upset the balance of power. However, that is not the case. A rather solemn embrace, a meaningless warm regard, and a weak condolence swept the canker into oblivion. Why is this the case, and if Parliament can lead the charge, why then is there no fix? The answer lies perhaps in a hollow verbiage and understanding of the role of the Ghanaian Parliament. While it may be unbeknownst to many, the function of Parliament is not in the slightest of ways relegated to ‘paper pushing.’

First, in addition to making laws, which is the most quoted cliché, Parliament also advances bills with the aim of stamping out social cankers like death-trap roads. Second, it executes oversight responsibilities through parliamentary committees, which in this context is the prerogative of the

Parliamentary committee on roads and transport. Third, it approves budgetary allocations from the ministry of finance. A cursory look at articles 106 and 103 of the 1992 Constitution reveal the modalities underpinning the exercise of legislative power and how through parliamentary committees, Parliament can accelerate national development.

What purpose do parliamentary committees serve; specifically, what is the role of the committee on roads and transport? Parliamentary committees have an oversight responsibility over the executive. In short, they act as a counter balance to executive power. The idea is that considering the

propensity for the executive arm of government to become comatosed or tyrannical, there must be parliamentary committees exercising oversight roles to keep them in check.

Similarly, the Parliamentary Committee on Roads and Transport has a checks and balances mandate over executive agencies such as the ministry of roads and highways, the national road safety commission, and the Ghana highways authority. To this end, it is endowed with power to oversee affiliates whose work overlap with its road and infrastructure mandate. It has a limitless arsenal, including issuing subpoena and testimony solicitation to inspect work in progress, capital expenditure, as well as update on monetary allocations on issues of road and transport.

Who ‘benefits’ from a broken transportation and road infrastructure as is the case of the Accra

– Kumasi highway? Three groups: (1) casualties, (2) traffic-evading and law defying ‘invisible’ men who cruise in entourages of limitless convoys, the cost of which is borne by the taxpayer, and (3) crooked contractors who execute shoddy contracts with the aim of robbing the country. As indicated, the devastating effect of broken roads cannot be overemphasized. Even in the absence of evil wishes, it is trite to argue that the percentage of death from road accidents would increase significantly if not double by the end of 2021. Statistics from the government should paint a stark warning worthy of urgent parliamentary action lest we risk the tendency of an infinitely vicious cycle of self-destruction.

The argument about tolling is particularly interesting because despite the existence of 2 toll booths on the ‘road of death’, very little can be seen with regards to the impact of the funds generated. By contrast, the proponents argue that additional toll booths should be added to those already in existence even though very little can be seen from the funds usage. This leaves one questioning whether adhering to alternatives may be the best option. Indeed, the most promising alternative would be a redefinition of the relationship between citizens and the state. As can be inferred, tolling has not provided the solution urgently needed, neither has Parliament utilized its powers to compel action.

Further, Parliament’s nonchalant attitude towards compelling state agencies to action seems to be the Achilles’ heel of the republic.

In allocating responsibility, both majority and minority caucuses in Parliament are probably guilty of inaction. For more than 10 years, the ‘road of death’ has stood the test of time and helped transit many souls into oblivion. Although Parliament has the means to solve this problem, it has not. It has shirked its responsibility thus far and focused extensively on ex-gratia, car loans, and all sorts of self-aggrandizement. The culminating effect is the prevalence of failed executive agencies including the Ministry of Roads and Highways, responsible for the development of road and transport systems. It is not enough to approve budgets and do nothing with regards to overseeing the end product. For example, Parliament approved over 2.2 billion Ghana cedis for the Ministry’s 2020 road, transport, and infrastructure initiatives. However, the committee on roads and transport did very little in using its power to compel financial responsibility, work performance, and due diligence. Aside, the torturous delay in Parliament’s release of allocated funds to the Ministry has been nothing short of magic. In short, Parliament approves budgetary allocations but does very little in relation to oversight, and distilling the work of the committee on road and transport is more befogging than voting in an election.

While the death of the outrider could have triggered swift action culminating in a reactionary fix, it was met with inaction, apathy, and nonchalance. If Parliament is aware of the opprobrious state of roads and risks posed to human life but does very little to remedy them, then the provision of advance dispatch outriders for members of Parliament is questionable. Should national assets be sacrificed for unworthy causes? Over the years, Parliament has mostly focused on budgetary allocation and securing loans without any significant check on executive action. If Parliament takes its work seriously, then the road and transport committee should compel investigation into the cause of the death of the outrider and take reactionary measures to fix the principal causes.

Considering the importance of the Speaker and his position in the hierarchy of the country’s leadership, the tragic death of his outrider should have invoked urgency. Particularly, this tragedy should have propelled the members of Parliament into a ‘fixing frenzy’ —But nay! The best communique from the house noted that “>arliament is distraught by the news of [the outrider’s] death [and that] while mourning the loss of our dispatch rider, Parliament sends its deepest condolences to the family.” 2 What about tackling the underlying cause of this enigma?

A reactionary fix to the problem that terminated the outrider’s life would demonstrate a commitment by Parliament to the people who voted them into office. It would indicate that the human resources in this country are an important part of nation building. It is outrageous to have road accidents close to or more than 16,000 in a given year with little reform and action from Parliament. This should make the ordinary Ghanaian concerned. But more than that, it should make Parliament question the performance of its mandate. Is driving around in escorts all there is to being in Parliament? Is the existence of Parliament meaningless? Both the majority and minority in Parliament seem unconcerned or at best, unperturbed.

As a Ghanaian, one gets incessantly bombarded by sophomoric posturing that relegate the mandate of Parliamentarians to law-making and nothing else. This is a convenience argument that ignores the constitutional duties imposed on Parliament as an oversight institution. In recent times, many forward-thinking Parliaments around the world assert their authority and advance national developmental agendas where their executive counterparts fail. It suffices to opine that more is expected of Ghanaian parliamentarians; this includes elevating performance above the mediocre status’ choked by predecessors as well as obliterating the benchmark of archaic equalizations.

Hon. Alban Babgin whose advance dispatch team was involved in the accident ought to lead the task force necessary to short-circuiting this problem and permanently diffusing its hold. Indeed, the Ghanaian government has, through omission, historically advanced policies of death when it comes to road infrastructure vis-à-vis the significance of human lives. On this note, Parliament ought to play its role holistically and execute its duties exhaustively in order to advance the collective aspirations stipulated in the 1992 Constitution.

E.M. Sackey: [email protected] & G. Adu Ofori: [email protected] November 2021.

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