Towing Levy and Public Backlash; An Example of Limited Citizen Engagement and Parliament Opacity

On 25 February, 2015, the then Minister of Transport Honorable Mrs. Dzifa Attivor was summoned by Parliament to respond to a number of questions. MPs have a right to invite a Minister of State to Parliament for questioning, especially on subject matters that fall under the purview of the Minister. Standing Order 60 (1) states that Ministers shall by order of the House (Parliament) be requested to attend meetings of the House to answer questions asked of them.

On this occasion, Mrs. Attivor was questioned on the provision of towing services in the country, among others. This information could not have been more relevant particularly at a time when people are questioning MPs’ commitment to their mandate of oversight and legislation.

In 2009, the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) in tandem with the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service demarcated the country into six zones and assigned the following six private companies to remove disabled vehicles on the highways within their demarcated areas to minimize the incidence of related-road crashes.

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These six companies, of which five are based in Accra, towed disabled vehicles on a “service on call” basis. Disabled and abandoned vehicles were compulsorily towed and owners were surcharged. However, not all owners were willing to pay for the towing of their vehicles and sometimes owners access towed vehicles at Police Stations without making any payment. Due to these challenges, the companies withdrew towing services, including Road Safety Management Services Limited (owned by the Jospong Group) which operated towing services nationwide in 2015.

Following the approval of regulations 102 and 105 of Road Traffic Regulations L.I 2180 (2012) also known as the towing levy, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) is required to pay registered providers of commercial towing services 85 percent of funds from the towing levy every year. NRSC engaged a Transaction Adviser (TA) to translate the operation into a Public-Private Partnership to ensure sustainability. This was to be completed by June 30, 2015 for the implementation of the towing levy to commence by September same year. Whilst this process was ongoing, the NRSC met the leadership of the existing commercial service providers (already mentioned) in addition to Global Haulage Company Limited to discuss the way forward. It was concluded that the Police Administration should assist service providers with charges from vehicle owners.

When Mr. Annoh-Dompreh (MP, Nsawam-Adoagyiri) asked about the criterion used for the selection of the existing service providers during the questioning of the Minister in 2015, Mrs Attivor indicated that it was unknown to her and only the implementing agency (NRSC) is privy to that information. Though she did not know how the companies were selected, she said that the NRSC “went through the procurement process through the tender process to get the companies that are doing the towing services” (Parliamentary debates, 2015).

Questions asked of the Minister of Transport at the time were indicative of a common understanding and agreement on the towing levy. None of the questions critiqued the idea of slapping towing levies on vehicle owners. Neither were there expressed opinions on alternative ways of administering towing levies. Since public admittance to meetings of Parliament committees are restricted and subject to the discretion of the Committee Chairs, it is very hard, if not impossible, to ascertain the depth of public engagement on the towing levy.

It is also unclear whether there were exhaustive consultations, following the completion of the TA’s assignment, between Parliament and stakeholders. This also makes it difficult to understand why Road Safety Management Services Limited of Jospong, which was initially operating alongside other service providers, will propose a deal to government seeking to monopolize the towing sector and be a sole claimant to the annual 85 percent fund from the levy.

Mr Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah (MP, Ofoase-Ayirebi), a deputy Minister of Information is reported by the media to have admitted that there were very little public sensitization and engagement (before, during and after) the passage of the “Road Safety Fees”(towing levy). For this reason, the towing levy has been suspended until extensive sensitization and consultation are completed.

This is not the first time Parliament has retreated under ‘heavy fire’ from the public, which is a good thing. However, this also serves as a reminder to Parliament to do the necessary due diligence and that also includes making extensive public engagement paramount among other plans for effective legislation and policy making.

It is crucial for Parliament to open up meetings of Parliamentary Committees to the public by default, a move that requires an amendment to Standing Order 213 which states that “No stranger shall be admitted to any meeting of a Committee without the consent of the Chairman, unless the Committee decides that such meeting shall be held in public: Provided that the Chairman of a Committee may, whenever he thinks fit, order the withdrawal of strangers from any meeting which is being held in public.”