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Sierra Leone News: Are Street Traders Above The Law?

Why on earth have we Sierra Leoneans chosen to be satisfied with mediocrity? We allow all sorts of trash from everywhere to be dumped on us all in the name of trade and some time ago the almost dumped Lebanon Pupu on us. Internally we are chocking ourselves to extinction. One way this is done is through street trading, causing not only inconvenience to the pedestrian but also traffic congestion. The issue of traffic congestion and environmental sanitation will remain with us for a very long time if our authorities do not get real serious and stop lip-servicing such important life threatening challenges that seem to defy every definition. When dysfunctional institutions/ establishments are headed by incompetent people, we get the kind of dismally poor public service performance that is prevalent these days. After the Okada restriction, I think the Minister should work on freeing our streets of traders.
The Freetown City has unfortunately had a long string of incompetent players who rest on their oars, counting their party links to be a foremost guarantee to stay in power. God bless Late Alfred Akibo-Betts whose administration as Freetown Chairman/ Mayor. He especially in preparation for the City’s Bicentenary celebrations gave the city a remarkable face lift. They got the streets of Freetown free of hawkers also.
The current Minister of Internal Affairs, Pallo Conteh’s action of getting commercial motor bikes off the streets of the Central business district of Freetown, was more than welcome. Simply put the Minister’s action is good and in line with statutory provisions. What he might consider now is removing traders from prohibited streets.
No sooner that action was taken than the commercial drivers started charging higher fees, thinking it was their turn to make more money by both shortening the trips and also increase the fares. If you ask me I will tell you that Commercial drivers are among the most heartless public service providers in this nation. Yes indeed. One thing we need to consider is the fact that until all related challenges to the traffic situation are cleared in tandem, the situation will not change.
The ugly situation is not helped by the political leadership at all. I remember before the last national elections we were told the streets will be cleared of hawkers/petty traders. This did not happen but rather outlandish excuses were given all in the name of livelihood pursuance. We all know that every citizen is required to strive to survive. However the survival strategies are to be within the ambit of the law. Like I always say, what is the use of laws if they are not effectively implemented? We have witnessed the passing of so many laws, including the celebrated Freetown City Council bye laws for street littering, keeping stray dogs at bay, plus , plus, plus… They all have almost ended up like the usual vuvuzella yap-yap!
What is sometimes sickening is that when you discuss very salient issues in this country, they politicise. When some people, after elections say politics is over, I tell them politics will never really end; it is definitely not an event. The whole life of the politician is spent in politics. Perhaps the politics people are referring to erroneously is electioneering. Yes elections could be over, but politics continues. In fact it is not only the so –called professional politician that plays politics. In actual fact somehow we are all politicians. Yes every day we try to have our way with people in a rather shrewd way, we are playing politics.
We should laud the bold step that the Internal Affairs Minister has taken. However it is just like opening a can of worms. We need to effectively deal with the issue of street trading once and for all! Currently pedestrians have no space. The traders have not only taken over the sidewalks, but have also taken part of the streets. We should remember that apart from vehicles there are other road users like wheel barrows, omolankay and with the water crisis, the Bearing which carries several gallons full of water. So you see the motor bikes are just one side of the story. I think the most important follow-up action the minister should take is checking the extortionist attitude of our commercial drivers which is making life unbearable for commuters. It is because of the insincerity of our political leadership that a place like Abacha street traders has become an institution and a serious force unto itself. The promises to clear the streets were abandoned no sooner the elections were won and lost.
People should know that our country’s Constitution allows for separation of powers where by the Executive, the Legislative and the judiciary have clearly distinct functions all in the bid to maintain checks and balances. Without this the rights of citizens that are sarcosantly embedded in Chapter three of the Sierra Leone Constitution, will be compromised. The police, being a law enforcing institution have to stay autonomous enough to carry out its duties to the best of its ability.
The Road traffic Act of 2007, Part XI places restriction on Road use for road safety, Section 134 talks about Prohibition of Street Trading. The prohibited streets are actually listed in statutory instruments which I know the police and the Freetown City Council know about. I know that during the 50th Independence Celebrations traders were moved out of the streets. That was an opportune moment in which authorities could have got the traders to see reason to go to the existing markets. We know that some markets are not fully utilized because they want to be on the streets.
It looks like the Institutions managing Road traffic issues are not taking their work seriously. We saw the issue of Right Hand drive vehicles turn into a comedy show. For over four years they paid lip service to it and up to today right hand Drive vehicles are plying our roads. Are our authorities really serious? We know that on March 1, 1971 the country changed over to right hand traffic. This effectively means that vehicles with their steering wheel on the right will not be imported into the country. We all know that both the Quay and SLRSA authorities flouted that law and got them in. In 2011 the Road traffic regulations came out as a Statutory Instrument. The prohibition of right hand drive vehicles is there under part IX, section 73. In whatever further steps taken by the Internal Affairs minister, there should be consideration for the safety of the pedestrian who compete daily with City Council’s statutory stray dogs and pigs traversing the city.
We know the critical adverse effects of the loathed political interference into the work of the law enforcement authorities. In this twenty- first century we have to think outside the box and think very critically in order to improve service delivery. Remember prosperity cannot be achieved if we spend half of our valuable time stuck in traffic. I want to remind our authorities that having sworn an oath to serve us, they should show sincerity
By Ben Cambayma
Wednesday November 29, 2017.

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