On December 9, 2016, a Swiss company, Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS), held an inauguration ceremony for its first motor vehicle inspection station in Kawanda, north of Kampala.
The company has been contracted by the ministry of Works and Transport to conduct these purportedly mandatory inspections, ostensibly to curb the high rate of accidents and emissions, both of which are caused by vehicles in poor mechanical condition.
My contentions against this scheme revolve around three overarching points:
Abdication of responsibility by public institutions: In an effort to understand the institutional framework that governs (public and private) transportation, physical infrastructure, licensing, regulation and taxation, I cast my net deep into the sea of laws of Uganda and I found five institutions in my net.
In no particular order, I found the Uganda police inspectorate of vehicles located in Naguru, Jinja, Mbarara and Mbale; customs department of Uganda Revenue Authority, Uganda National Roads Authority, Uganda National Bureau of Standards as well as the National Road Safety Council.
The Traffic and Road Safety Act 1998 as well as the Import Inspection and Clearance Regulations 2015 were also particularly helpful.
Summarily, the aforementioned public bodies are mandated and owe Ugandan taxpayers a duty of care with regard to the durability of public infrastructure (roads and accessories like traffic lights in this case), automobiles on the market, quality of the fuel that cars consume as well as registration and licensing.
Has the Uganda police’s inspectorate of vehicles been rendered useless? Have the Uganda National Bureau of Standards and the customs department at URA abandoned their roles of ensuring that all imported products are inspected and their fitness for purpose established before they get onto the market?
If these two haven’t abandoned their statutory duties, why should we pay twice for a service that was already provided and paid for by the end-user at the point of purchase? Will SGS refund those car owners from whom up to Shs 100,000 has been extorted in the name of mandatory inspection?
How will the cash-strapped National Road Safety Council which received a paltry Shs 150m for Financial Year 2014/2015 out of a budget ceiling of an equally measly Shs 300m to implement its countrywide mandate when part of its mandate has been outsourced to a private player, SGS?
Incoherent public policy: The argument by then minister of works John Byabagambi to the effect that the inspection is being undertaken to curb accidents and emissions is reflective of an acute lack of understanding on the part of those who purport to be in charge of our public affairs.
Because of the prevailing taxation regime, it is easier to buy a used (reconditioned) vehicle in Uganda today than a new car. Would it not make more sense to reform the tax code with a view to encourage Ugandans to buy new, first-hand cars which are safer and more environmentally friendly?
Instead, one public institution charges unconscionable tax rates for new cars (thereby forcing buyers to purchase older cars) while another institution punishes them by charging them for mandatory vehicle inspection for buying older and less environmentally friendly cars!
These two angles are treated as entirely unrelated. One institution is anxious to hit revenue collections by all means, another is starved of funds and rendered useless.
Misuse of public offices: This is not the first such haphazard scheme insofar as public and private transportation is concerned. Years ago, Ugandan road users were stampeded into installing seatbelts and speed governors for mid-range and heavy commercial vehicles.
The ostensible reasons of road safety that were advanced were clouded by the questionable circumstances surrounding the award of this tender and the hasty conclusion of the exercise. Little wonder that a random deadline of June 2017 has been set for all car owners, after which defaulters shall be heavily penalized.
For argument’s sake, can the vehicles in Uganda be inspected by SGS in a period of seven months?
You do not need a magnifying glass to see the fingerprints of fraud, collusion and impropriety surrounding what might turn out to be the latest in a series of continuing heists by public officials who connive with private players to fleece Ugandans under the veil of law enforcement.
Was a competitive procurement process followed for this mandatory inspection? Who owns the Ugandan subsidiary of SGS? What are the technical competencies of the people conducting the actual inspections? Are they accredited by car manufacturers? Are they automotive engineers?
Before I sign this off, I have a lingering question in my mind around the duty of care that public institutions owe us as citizens and taxpayers. Inspection of any sort is premised on the assumption that the person being inspected should have no excuse for not meeting the set standards.
Insofar as roads and the attendant infrastructure is concerned, what kind of roads do we have so that our vehicles should be expected to be of a certain standard?
Many Ugandans regularly have to bear the high costs of replacing shock absorbers, bumpers, grills, tyres and rims due to the damage that is sustained from potholes-turned-gulleys. Will inspecting vehicles cure the atrocious excuse of a public transportation system and infrastructure we run in this country?
For these reasons, I am commencing a campaign against this mandatory vehicle inspection and encouraging all taxpayers and road users to join me so that we resist this latest episode of extortion and daylight fraud by lazy and incompetent public officials who are in cahoots with disingenuous business interests disguised in the veils of road safety.
The author is a social critic.