By Allieu Sahid Tunkara
Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA), an institution that regulates the transport sector in Sierra Leone, is currently an object of intense criticism by many drivers plying within and outside Freetown.
They have registered their dissatisfaction with the Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers’ Union (MDGTWU), the umbrella organisation for registered drivers in the country.
By all indications, the dissatisfaction is not unconnected with what drivers say “high fees” demanded by Road Safety Corps for perceived minor traffic offences, especially parking in a prohibited place.
One of the drivers, Mohamed Fornah has been in the driving industry for over twenty years.
He told Nightwatch that he started his driving career as an apprentice and that they were satisfied with the traffic police to some extent.
“Before the traffic wardens were brought into the traffic system, conditions of traffic law enforcement were a bit better. Police officers, most times, would warn drivers on several occasions for minor traffic offences before charging them to court,” Fornah recounted.
Since the introduction of traffic wardens, Fornah continued, the system of traffic law enforcement drastically changed.
Traffic wardens almost always demand “high fees” from drivers. Most times, Fornah continued, traffic wardens issued tickets to them [drivers} without showing the specific traffic offence they had committed.
Fornah told Nightwatch that many vehicles at specific locations in Freetown are being clamped down or chained by traffic wardens for merely parking in places which the Road Safety Corps tagged as prohibited places.
These actions of traffic wardens to a large extent, have been the source of an ensuing “bad blood” that is gradually developing into an all-out conflict.
Ishmail Kamara is also a commercial taxi driver plying daily from Calaba town to Up-Gun, East of Freetown. Kamara has spent almost six years in the driving trade.
He told Nightwatch that few days ago, he parked his vehicle at Helena junction as his vehicle had an instant mechanical problem at that time.
The next day, he said, he was taken aback when he saw his vehicle in chains. “I was completely surprised to see my vehicle clamped down by traffic wardens. This was not the routine. I didn’t really understand what was going on in this country,” Kamara complained.
Before this time, Kamara continued, we used to enjoy friendly relationship with the police and the traffic wardens but said the latest twists and turns in the traffic sector has soured the relationship.
“If the situation is not addressed by the relevant authorities, it will soon go out of hands,” Kamara complained in a bitter mood.
Adding his voice to an almost an unbearable situation, Mohamed Yankson Koroma, is a veteran driver who plies from Bo to Freetown. Sometimes, he travels down to Gbondapi Trade Fair in Pujehun district, southern Sierra Leone.
Koroma narrated his sad story to Nightwatch about how his truck vehicle was clamped down by traffic wardens.
“I parked my vehicle at a point around last station at Calaba Town, East of Freetown for some time only to discover that my vehicle has been chained by traffic wardens on the charge of parking in a prohibited place. The situation was very serious,” he said.
He also explained that since he was in a hurry to return to Bo on the same day owing to his transport schedule, he bowed to SLRSA financial demands by paying his fines.
“My vehicle was released after paying the fines, and I left for Bo,” Koroma complained.
“I was not satisfied with the conduct of the traffic wardens but I had to put up with the situation,” he added.
The off-shoot of the “harassment situation” of traffic wardens in Freetown surfaced in Makeni few weeks back, when commercial motorists embarked on a sit-down strike over what they called harassment by traffic wardens.
The entire Makeni municipality was paralysed owing to the absence of commercial motor cycles on the streets. The situation was also compounded by pockets of protests against traffic wardens which compelled the police to come in and handle the situation. Owing to the concerted effort of key stakeholders in the municipality, the traffic situation was normalized.
As acts of “harassment” ofdrivers by traffic wardens through the “unwarranted issuance”of tickets and fines continues, drivers have approached several authorities in Freetown and put their grievances across.
Momodu Koroma is MDGTWU Vice President IN Sierra Leone. He confirmed he had received series of complaints from drivers about the clamping down of their vehicles and the imposition of heavy fines on them by traffic wardens.
VP Koroma told Nightwatch the plethora of complaints he received from drivers had compelled him to take action to quell down the situation. “I have approached the SLRSA in respect of the complaints of high fees made by drivers. “We are going to have a meeting to put a system in place so that we can have a way forward,” Koroma assured.
VP Koroma also confirmed that parking in prohibited places and other related offences were the main reasons vehicles were clamped down by the Road Safety Corps. He assured the drivers that the new arrangement would lead to a turn-around between the union and the SLRSA. “The new arrangement we are trying to jointly put in placewould ensure that rampant clamping down of vehicles by Road Safety Corps stops,” VP Koroma assured.
Poised to ensure that the “bad blood” between drivers and SLRSA is trampled in the dust, VP Koroma spoke about a new method of making payments in respect of fines imposed by Road Safety Corps. “If the arrangement goes as planned, all fines would now be paid via orange money by defaulting drivers,” he assured.
He also told Nightwatch that the Union had trained traffic marshals that had been deployed on specific locations in Freetown to complement the work of traffic wardens and traffic police officers.
SLRSA is the principal regulator of the country’s transport sector, the agency is guided by two legal instruments known as the Road Traffic Act and the Road Traffic Regulations which were passed in 2007. The two instruments constitute the legal framework within which the institution operates. Any act on the part of SLRSA that is outside the legally recognized parametres of the two laws is unlawful.
Abdul Karim Dumbuya is the public relations officer of SLRSA. Dumbuya was contacted via mobile phone in respect of the allegations made against his institution, but failed to comment.
However, an official in the agency who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the status quo but assured that actions are in place to remedy the situation.
By Allieu Sahid Tunkara