Monday, February 8, 2010

Yank Them Off, Mr. Joe Gidisu


Living in Ghana is like running a steeple chase. When you overcome one hurdle, another one is thrown into your path. Koo Santana grew up living in a slum called Maamobi. The location in the middle of the capital was great but he hated every other bit of it - the lack of decent toilet and bathroom, filth, poorly ventilated rooms, taps that don't flow, etc – and couldn't wait to get out of the place once he started earning his own money. He struggles out of the mess and finds himself a little self-contained house in Sakumono. To overcome the transportation challenges, he gets himself a second hand car which spends a fair bit of time with mechanics. A good number of the mechanics are Junior High School dropouts who cannot read any manufacturer's manual, yet the engineering monster is at their mercy. Trial and error is their faithful methodology, except that such ineptitude translates to unnecessary cost, downtime and sometimes avoidable accidents for the owner of the car. From Sakumono, any of three routes will get him to his office at the central business district. The route through Nungua is a traffic legend. The Spintex road has fast out-paced its cousin in Nungua. Set off at 6a.m and you will get to the office at 8:30 am already late for work. The third option, through Tema township via the beach road and then across the Tema-Accra motorway clocks over 40km on his odometer daily in one direction, but is the only route that gets him to the office before 8 a.m. This distance was reduced by a few kilometers as motorists forced the authorities to give a tacit approval to the use of a bypass with direct access to the motorway. The damage to his pocket was in the form of high fuel bills which he bore quietly.


He knew he couldn't keep pace with the astronomical increase in rent in this middle class area, so he got himself a piece of land in Afienya , more than 10km from Tema, to put up a three bedroom for himself. This was after his attempt to get a plot of land in Tema which is nearer to Accra was thwarted by the US dollar price tag set by Tema development Corporation( Is it company?) (TDC). When he complained about putting dollar tags on Land in Ghana, the marketing staff at the Ghana government owned TDC scolded him for talking too much and reminded him that TDC serviced plots were meant for people living and working outside Ghana. He was forced to admit that good things, even those provided by the government he pays taxes to, were not meant for him because he chose to live in Ghana after his education. Monkeys, they say play by sizes so Koo Santa moved two towns away to Afienya where he put a little cottage from where he commutes daily to work in Accra. He escaped the huge rent advances demanded by the market but racked up his fuel bills. The longer journey meant he increased his carbon foot print and the environment suffers. Between Afienya and Accra are two toll booths which he had always taken for granted, but alas, no more. A 900% hike in tolls means he must set aside 40GHC (400,000 old cedis) for tolls every month just to commute to and from the office.

My little narration above is about real people and real events. There seem to be some punishment for every step taken to better one's life in Ghana. I have just spent 30 minutes on the motorway between Action Chapel and the Toll booth, a distance less than 2km. A bad situation is exacerbated by the many drivers that lack proper upbringing ("dzimakpla") as a result, they have no conscience-check when they drive on the shoulders of the roads to avoid a civilized queue.

First, the toll booths were creating heavy traffic on the Tetteh Quarshie and Motorway Circles so they were moved. Then electronic gates were introduced to eliminate fraud at the cash point and immediately, traffic conditions worsened, and now the new tolls didn't make it better. Has it occurred to anybody that the toll booths have outlived their usefulness on the motor way? The demarcation between Accra and Tema is long gone. It is not the fault of the average worker that Accra has escaped planning and we must live so far from the business district. It is enough punishment having to spend more on fuel and drive long distances , increasing our stress levels is a price too high for a nation as poor as Ghana. I couldn't believe it when the last government created more toll booths around Accra. I think our governments are just insensitive to our needs because we always turn out in our numbers to vote for non-performing leaders.

The argument that the toll gates are required to collect tolls to improve the road network is neither here nor there. We all know that like the street light levy which we have been paying for ages, there will be no correlation between the tolls and our street conditions. That said, I believe there are better ways of raising these tolls. It is the right of every Ghanaian to drive on decent streets, the cost of which must be borne by all. Tolling particular streets is not helpful to this course. Distribute the cost among all cars, this can be charged once a year when the cars are presented at the DVLA for examination. Foreign cars that enter Ghana through the boarders can pay a road toll before they enter the country. With this arrangement, few roads will need tolling. The toll booths that surround the city of Accra like Trojan walls are unnecessary bother to citizens. Mr. Gidisu, it's time to yank them off. If the gates go, you don't have to worry about who steals the tolls. The money spent on electronic gates will be saved, and the tolls will be deposited straight into your accounts by the banks that operate at the DVLA office. The only loss I see here is that politicians will lose the opportunity to put their "foot soldiers" at the gates in the name of providing them with jobs. Even then, the money saved can be applied to expand the economy to absorb them. Please go ahead and tax away all our earnings as you please, but Koo Santana pleads for his health. The bad traffic situation in Accra is the number 1 stress factor for most of us in Accra and other cities. They may be better here than in some other countries, but we aspire towards greater heights. It is the responsibility of our elected leaders to ease this pain. Stacking us behind toll gates will only make it worse.

By the way, when it comes to taxes, when is enough, enough? When I earn money I pay PAYE, when I buy fuel I'm taxed, when I use my cell phone or browse the Internet I pay communications tax, for daring to use electricity I'm hit with street light levy, drinking packaged water earns me a tax wrath, driving to the office from Kasoa, Afienya, Tema etc is punished for my inability to rent a house in airport with tolls, If I own a cottage I pay property rates , ignore the fact that the roads around my property will never see development in decades and I have to find more money for zoom lion to collect the rubbish I generate, and above all I pay 15% VAT directly or indirectly for all other goods and services. So under all my heavy burden of taxes, I throw my hands up into the air and decide to forget all my problems with two tots of local gin but that doesn't go well with the tax professor president so he gives me a stern rebuke with an alcohol tax. What next Mr President? Please spare the air that we breath. But do I get anything in return for all these taxes? Is that what they call the social contract? I can only concur with Kwaw kese, ABODAM! CRAAAAAAZY! Hey, I hear another tune on the radio. It's a gospel by Ron Kenoly,
"I still have joy
I still have joy
After all I've been through
I still have joy"
Somebody asked me why we're so religious in Ghana. If you take away the con that comes with that too, it is the only avenue to escape the madness.

 

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