Sun, May

Hawkers and traders ply their business in and around traffic on a daily basis.

Thoughts From Afar
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For me, two interconnected paradigms stand out; the lack of political will and threats by the citizenry of electoral consequences should the status quo be disturbed.

 “We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can opt out of these decisions. Every policy the government adopts, and every individual choice you make, implies that a valuation has been made, even if no one has been honest enough to own up to it or even admit it to themselves.”  Tim Harford in “The Undercover Economist.”

Last week’s graphic and gruesome footage of a vehicle running over some street hawkers in Ashaiman were circulated on many social media platforms. I tried hard not to watch but got the import of the story. It emerged that the vehicle had suffered a brake failure leading to the accident, injury and loss of life. In the melee that ensued the driver fearing for his life escaped the scene. This incident led me to some introspection and a root cause analysis of why such incidents have become a regular occurrence in our country.  My research led me to some worrying statistics.  According to the latest WHO data published in 2017, Road Traffic Accidents Deaths in Ghana reached 7,144 or 3.39% of total deaths. This data ranks Ghana 31st in the world. Also, road traffic accidents were the ninth leading cause of death in our country.

As someone who has consistently argued that death is a process rather than an event, I sought to unravel the underpinnings that have led to these worrying statistics. In our land, there are laws and policies requiring vehicles to be tested for roadworthiness following which they are certified. However, it doesn’t require a genius to tell that these laws are poorly implemented. Similarly, there are laws and policies that make hawking on streets illegal. However, these laws are flouted with impunity too.

As a result, in an accident such as what happened in Ashaiman, there is often a likelihood that the vehicle owner, driver, the dead and injured will all have been in breach of public policy, leading to constraints on our healthcare delivery and an already teetering emergency care system. This scenario leads me to the critical question; why are we so averse to the law?

To answer this question, I sought an understanding of what public policy is. Public policy can be generally understood as: “a set of decisions (course of action), authorised by the state (parliament, courts, and government officials), and intended to create public value.” Therefore the test for any policy is that of “public value.” Which implies the public must have some benefit from the policies of the state. Can we honestly say on the basis of road traffic accidents maiming so many of us, that the policies in place pass the public value test? In my humble opinion, they don’t. Is it, therefore, the case that we need more policy to regulate this area? In my view, we don’t.

Truth is, as a country we have so many fine laws, policies and documents that have been drawn up with taxpayer’s money, donor funds, with considerable intellectual input and in some instances at a considerable legislative expense. Sadly, we often do all these with no plan to implement. In many cases, the sitting allowance, per Diem and other freebies that the policy formulators will enjoy is foremost both at the agenda-setting and policy formulation stage. Hence, little by way of planning is done to ensure implementation succeeds, neither is any roadmap set for policy review. Rather we celebrate the passing of Bills into Acts of Parliament and the drafting of new policies to deal with menaces for which current legal and regulatory frameworks can handle and fail to ask how differently these new documents will be implemented to ensure sanity prevails and public value realised.

Any curious reader may want to ascertain when any of our road traffic laws were passed and what policy review has been undertaken following the inception. Whilst at it, check if one finds any implementation plan, road map or timeline or any quality assurance framework to measure implementation success against. Truth is none exists, we set our policies up to fail the public value test, so we can write more policies and line the pockets of bureaucrats. That’s been the game since independence.

This vicious cycle cannot continue and must be broken. Unfortunately, this will never happen unless we identify the main drivers that fuel our malaise to lawfulness to the advantage of lawlessness. For me, two interconnected paradigms stand out; the lack of political will and threats by the citizenry of electoral consequences should the status quo be disturbed. Can any reader imagine the press headlines and political slants that will emerge if authorities decided to clear all hawkers from our streets? As a result, our society has shunted proactivity to the advantage of reactionary measures.

Hence, we often see authorities move in following such an accident to clear the streets, only to see the hawkers threaten them into oblivion and reclaim them back. The irony, however, is the public office holder often is the least likely to be put in harm’s way due to a failure to implement public policy. The chances of he or she or their children hawking on the street and getting run over by a truck are minuscule. In some instances, it favours them that as citizens we are so intransigent in our ignorance to hold public officers to account and enjoys the lawlessness.  This is because many have gotten elected thanks to a tie of their apron strings to our lawlessness.

But is that what real leadership is about? In my view no. Fact is these threats of political consequence are actually obtuse. In reality, I see more political capital being gained from a society where law and order prevails, road traffic accidents are down to a minimum, not in the top ten leading causes of death and our accident and emergency departments are not inundated with people because of a failure of our public policy passing the public value test.

Then again whilst criticizing our leadership, public office holders and policy drafters, I am under no illusion that from amongst us citizens do we elect leaders and that what we have in public office is a reflection of the low value most of us citizens place on matters of national importance. This, coupled with the petulant buffoonery we demonstrate when lawfulness is prioritised with silly phrases like “giving a human face to the implementation and enforcement of the law” is the tacit underpinning of why we may continue to see road traffic accidents become a public health epidemic and ascend further the mortality cause ladder.

We need to be alive to these realities and understand that all the policies are a result of a valuation being made on how to add value to our lives and stop our predisposition to nomadic behaviour and lawlessness that have been formulated at considerable expense to us. By being conduits to their failure, therefore, we are not only risking our health but becoming complicit in the pen pushing bureaucratic plunder of the state.

I will end by saying, public health policy is just not about healthcare but more about sociology and politics. You may choose to be part of the debate or sit on the fence but if you decide to perch on the fence, just remember a vehicle may suffer mechanical failure, run into the fence and end your life. Should that happen blame not your village people or let any pastor preach at your burial service that it’s the will of God or that God knows best.  Rather, whilst in your coffin let your family and loved ones remember, your death was a process you chose not to engage with and rest in perfect peace.

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