One of the reasons why Africa is still left far behind in almost every aspect of development is because our decision makers seem to lack the capacity and foresight to do proper planning and take relevant decisions. This is certainly to a large extent true in almost every sector in this country, as everything seems to be done on an ad hoc basis rather than with any effective planning.
A good case in point is the chaos that ensues in this country every year-end when almost all licenses are due for renewal and taxes required to be paid, resulting in January and February being the most chaotic months in this country. It is the time when virtually every license is due for renewal with the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA), the municipalities and local councils all come out at the same time to recover all kinds of taxes, including property taxes from yard owners and tenants.
However, the most chaotic exercise is no doubt the vehicle licensing procedures when all vehicle and driver’s licenses are required to be renewed. With the ever increasing number of vehicles in this country, coupled with the poor and inadequate road network, one can imagine the chaos it causes to both motorists and the traffic police, as well as the public at large, with almost every vehicle owner spending several hours or even days queuing up to renew their vehicle and driver’s licences, especially considering the fact that those things are done at different places.
To add to the chaos and confusion, the police have this year also made it conditional for all vehicles and their drivers to be tested for their road-worthiness and driving efficiency before licenses are renewed. This is the craziest decision that the traffic police had ever taken as they quite well know that they neither have the capacity nor the manpower to carry out such an exercise with any degree of efficiency.
The testing, at least for the Greater Banjul area, is being done at the Independence Stadium where hundreds of vehicles are usually found packed on a daily basis with their drivers trying to get tested by a single traffic official. One can imagine how chaotic such a situation would be, with everyone trying to get the attention of the testing officer. Of course, the process is so slow and time consuming that some people who fail to get his attention had to leave after several hours of waiting, apparently in order to try another day.
The police should very well have known that it is impossible to carry out such an exercise on the hundreds of thousands of vehicles on our roads with any degree of efficiency, but it appears that all they seem to care about, on their insistence to carry out this chaotic annual licensing process, is the amount of money they can raise from the exercise, regardless of the negative impact it has on the public.
Obviously, with proper planning, such chaos could have been avoided or at least minimized. One way of easing the situation could have been to make both the vehicle and the driver’s licences to last for at least five years instead of everyone having to renew them every year. Otherwise, even if they still want to carry out an annual renewal, rather than insisting on everyone obtaining those documents at the beginning of each new year, why not make it an all-year round exercise so that people can renew their licenses as and when they expire, like it is done in many other countries, rather than everyone having to do it the same time?
Indeed, with the chaotic situation and the slow pace that things seem to be going, it is quite obvious that the police do not have the capacity to license even half of the vehicles in this country before the end of the year. One would therefore wonder how many people would even have the stamina and time to queue up for several days just to renew their licenses. It is no doubt the reason why so many motorists are doing everything possible to either jump the queue or even avoid getting those necessary documents, and continue to play hide and seek with the police for the rest of the year.
Therefore, it is high time that those in charge of our institutions began to take advantage of technology to modernize their operations. If the police traffic unit, for instance, had made the effort to build up an effective database for their operations, capturing details of all the vehicles on our roads, it would have made life much easier both for them as well as for the motorists as they would have drastically reduced the time and resources needed to produce those essential documents. However, they still seem to rely on the traditional paper work and what is even more frustrating and irritating is the fact that on some occasions, they would run out of the very documents that they need to carry out their work.
Indeed, this is yet another indication that this country is in urgent and drastic need of institutional reforms if we are to make any progress in the much hyped about National Development Plan (NDP).
Demba Ali Jawo is a veteran print journalist and former minister of information and communication infrastructure.