Weigh bridges constructed in various parts of the country to ensure that trucks keep to the permissible load weights are not serving their purpose due to corrupt practices of state officials paid to man them.
Instead of making overloaded trucks offload the excess goods and have the drivers prosecuted, the officials allegedly extort between 100,000 cedis and 400,000 cedis and let the offending drivers off the hook.
At the Tema Motorway axle load control station, it is estimated that these officials collect about 50 million cedis bribe from an estimated 500 truckers who use the station daily.
This means that annually, a total of 17.3 cedis is collected as bribe at the Tema checkpoint alone.
This came to light during a trip undertaken by a reporter of the Times from Tema to Ouagadougou-Burkina Faso and back. The trip brought to the fore some of the frustrations that heavy-duty truck drivers encounter in transit to convey their goods.
The investigation also discovered that at the Achimota Ofankor axle load checkpoint, another bribe of between 30,000 cedis and 100,000 cedis is collected from each of the same drivers who had earlier paid at the motorway.
Most truck drivers the Times spoke to expressed disgust, saying that their protests are met with threats of prosecution by the officials.
"My brother we have to pay because immediately you challenge their decision, they threaten court action though no wrong has been committed on the part of the driver. Lf you challenge them, they will tell you that you will be sent to court, and when you are taken to court and plead not guilty, the court will send you on remand", one driver alleged.
As a result, the drivers said they prefer paying the bribes to going to court.
They said this is done in the presence of the police who are to process offending drivers for court, and who stand at the entrance directing the trucks to a location on the motorway to pass through the weighbridge, where the officials wait to collect the money instead of doing the proper checks on the vehicles.
The overloading of trucks is known to cause extensive damage to the roads, and constitutes a source of danger to other road users
The axle load check was therefore put in place to check overloading of trucks. They are found country wide and are used to ensure that trucks load appropriately and not above the required levels.
The modus operandi of these officials is that all drivers using the bridge pay a bribe of between 1OO,OOO cedis and 400,000 cedis without having to go through any checks.
This means that even overloaded trucks are allowed to pass once the drivers pay the "approved bribe".
The trip afforded the reporter the opportunity to observe the delays and bribery that the drivers encounter on the Tema¬ (Ghana) and Ouagadougou-(Burkina Faso) corridor travelling by trucks in both directions.
Out of the 23 barriers and checkpoints that the driver paid bribe before getting to the Paga border, 13 were for the police, nine for CEPS and one for axle loads officials. The return trip also recorded 26 spots of bribe paying, with the police leading with 16, CEPS having some and axle load officials at Ofankor.
Trucks, mostly from land-locked countries, break down frequently due to faults developed as a result of overloading.
Some of these trucks are found turned over mostly on the Accra Kumasi road. Most of them break down after leaving the checkpoint.
The investigations also revealed that most of the truckers overload their vehicles, exceeding the required tonnage, and as such, the drivers do not hesitate to pay the amount that these officials demanded and thereby making both the driver and the axle tons officials guilty of the offence.
Speaking on the issue in an interview with the Times, Joe-Fred Pesseo, Director of Road Safety and Environment of the Ghana Highway Authority (GHA), said he has not had the occasion to witness the alleged bribes at the weigh bridges, but there had been instances where people have reported these officials to the GHA and investigations were carried out but the report came out exonerating everybody.
He noted that as a human institution, some might manipulate the system to extract money from drivers, and so steps were being taken to put in place a mechanism to stop the manipulation.
He mentioned that they were installing software on the equipments such that as soon as the trucks go on the bridge, it is registered and then they would later go and retrieve and then cross check with the fines, saying, "if there are 10 trucks that are overloaded, where are the returns. So this can remove these human elements".
He added that as part of their programmes, they would privatize the operations at the stations and that there would be another system on the road itself so that they would be able to monitor the operations of the private operator because there are tools which would be embedded in the pavement, and so they would record all the overloaded trucks on that road so that they would use it to crosscheck the returns of the station.
There will also be close circuit television mounted at the stations to monitor their activities.
Mr. Pesseo noted that currently the fines imposed on offending drivers are not deterrent enough and so they keep on overloading, some about twice the required tonnage.
Besides, there are so many frustrations in the process of prosecuting offenders, he said, adding that most of the cases are pending before the courts and that some of the drivers cannot even be traced. All this, he said will be removed when the new law on axle load comes into force, because offenders will have to pay their fines on the spot or pay additional penalty every other day that the original fine is not paid.
Currently, there are 12 weigh bridges mounted in various parts of the country to check the axle load, but only five are operational at the Tema Motorway, Ofankor, Asuoyeboa in Ashanti Region, Yapei in the Northern Region and Bogoso in the Western Region.