The Paradox of Road Tolls under President Akufo-Addo’s NPP Government

 

 

Tolling of roads as a tax generation measure is internationally acclaimed as one of the most dependable sources for raising funds as a special purpose vehicle for roads infrastructure in terms of maintenance, expansion and the construction of new roads of which Ghana, is not an exception.

When the NDC took over power from the NPP in 2009, the tolls tax rate at the various tolls booths across the country was Twenty Pesewas (0.20p) per Saloon Cars and Fifty Pesewas (0.50p) per 4×4 vehicles and pickups.

On assumption of duty as the Sector Minister in charge of Roads and Highways, I realized the need to overhaul the tolling system to generate more revenue, enhance transparency and proper accountability of road funds for road works across the country.

In a legislative Instrument to Parliament through Cabinet, we raised the tolls being paid by saloon cars from Twenty Pesewas (0.20p) to Fifty Pesewas(0.50p) and 4×4 as well as Pickups and Vehicles of similar axle weight from Fifty Pesewas to One Ghana Cedi (GHC 1.00). There was also an upward revision of rates paid by vehicles of higher axle weights.

Though we initially encountered a lot of negative reactions from the traveling public, especially commercial drivers, we were able to stabilize the new rates which no other government has been able to further review till date, through persistent education.

The current government in particular has rather mismanaged the running of the tolls through a deliberate policy of privatizing the tolls to themselves and their cronies until the current unwise decision of the Current Sector Minister to suspend tolls with the wild dream of converting the toll plazas to toilet points on our high ways.

One may ask, what were some of the things the then, NDC government did on the tolling of some of the major roads at the time?

We decided to:
1. Replace the “Kiosks” in which collectors were operating from with the building of Toll Plazas on the Accra and Tema ends of the motorway as well as the the Kasoa and Beposo Plazas among others.

2. We engaged Angel Data Ltd in the automation of these plazas. This went a long way to reduce corruption at the toll points and eventually improved revenue mobilization from those points.

3. We equally created e-switch lanes where regular users of the motorway could buy subsidized tickets in advance and could drive through those lanes without stopping to pay for tickets at the usual collection points.

4. Accountability of proceeds from the tolling points were improved through the daily submission of accounts from the then Twenty-Eight(28) tolling points throughout the country with Mr. Ben Ephson, Managing Editor of the Daily Dispatch always publishing the daily/week returns in his paper during those days and I am sure he could attest to this.

5. It is also significant to note that we centralized the collection of the tolls under the Ghana Highways Authority (GHA) and their accounts section was designated for the mobilization of revenue from the tolls and furnish the Ministry about those collections.

6. Besides, as a way of creating employment for Persons With Disabilities (PWDS), the GHA was directed to give preference to such people in terms of employment at the tolls.

7. Furthermore, when we took office in 2009, the two(2) Mobile Units of the GHA were virtually grounded due to lack of funds to maintain and operate them. The Mobile Units are meant for emergency interventions on roads and bridges. However, with the increased tolls and the transparency in the mobilization of revenue from that source, the two(2) mobile units were reactivated and each was assigned to the Northern and Southern sectors respectively.

8. For instance, at that time, the steel bridge linking the Abattoir and Community 20 and Shalom Spot in the Tema enclave, was a single lane thereby creating heavy traffic especially during rush hours.

This was also the time the current Minister for Information, Hon. Kodjo Oppong Nkrumah was at Joy FM and there was not a single day he would not descend on the Ministry to complain on air about the traffic situation and the need to make the steel bridge a dual carriage.

We had to deploy the Mobile Maintenance Unit for the southern sector to undertake this exercise with funding from the tolls through the Road Fund. And within no time, the dual carriage steel bridge was constructed and the road linking that site to the motorway was equally tarred.

It was the same mobile unit that was used to refurbish Wulensi town roads and other neighboring feeder roads and this was a reward package by government for the people in that Constituency by voting massively for the NDC in the 2012 elections.

9. We equally linked the automation of toll plazas to traffic light situation in the city and other cities and towns in the country. We were, therefore, able to bring under control the persistent power outage at the traffic lights. The traffic lights were given 48-hour back-up-traffic and people could testify to the effect that, from 2010-2012 and beyond, traffic lights never went off unnecessarily in the city. These were projects funded greatly from revenue generated by the tolls tax.

10. Between 2009 to 2012 and beyond, we terminated private contracts of the road tolls and the GHA was directly responsible for the supervision of the revenue from the tolls.

But thereafter, the NDC government lost power in 2016, the tolls were privatized again by the current NPP government and given to people of political influence in the private sector.

This led to drastic fall in the revenue situation especially from 2017 to November, 2022, when the Sector Minister had to compromise his position with Ministry of Finance (MOF) to announce the unwise decision of terminating toll points throughout the country and to propose turning the toll plazas into washrooms on the highways.
This reveals how low the NPP government have run down the tolling system in the country.

A well-organized tolling system could serve as a dependable source of funding for road works in the country.

That is why people like Hon. Kennedy Adjepong could wake up from his slumber and say that they will be rea-ctivating the automated tolls as if it is going to be a novelty of the NPP government.

Private companies through the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) policy could be employed by Government to assist in the expansion of roads infrastructure in the country.

The next NDC government should seriously examine employing this policy which could be of immense assistance in expansion of the road infrastructure at minimal cost to Government.

Before leaving office in 2012, we had almost completed a BOT agreement with TRAZACO Co. Ltd. for the building of a fly-over across the motorway. The fly over would have gone a long way to ease traffic on the motorway and equally create easy access to many of the communities in the catchment area.

We were also in discussions with another company for a similar BOT contract for the Old Winneba Road which would have greatly reduced traffic on the Accra-Kasoa road. In all these circumstances especially that of the Trazaco, funds were available for the project.

One serious threat to effective administration of most of our sectors is the tendency of new ministers to virtually ignore viable projects their predecessors had initiated and captured in their handing over notes. Most often, one would think that it is a different political party that has taken over the affairs of the Ministry.

NPP as a party in government has nothing to show in their operations of tolls hence they could carelessly abandon such a system which when well organized, could be a potential source of revenue for the road sector.

We of the NDC have demonstrated our recognition of tolls and their automation as dependable revenue base for the road sector and will strengthen weaknesses we have identified and propel it as a beacon of hope for the road construction industry when we assume the reigns of government God’s willing in 2025.

Signed.
Hon Joe Gidisu- Former MP- Central Tongue/ Minister of Roads and Highways.
12/04/2022.

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