By Lansana Fofanah.
The Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA) on Friday launched massive road safety enforcement at the Mile 38 Checkpoint outside Freetown.
The Checkpoint has been identified as a notorious law bypassing center where vehicles plying provincial routes have not been checked properly by security apparatus there, thus causing some drivers to drive without their vehicles satisfying standard road worthiness that has resulted to many deaths by road accidents.
The Sierra Leone Police deployed there have been coming under heavy criticism from the public for allegedly extorting money from drivers that prefer to bribe their ways instead of following traffic regulations.
The Executive Director of SLRSA, David Panda Noah, the Board Chairman Sheik Mustapha Bawoh and top Management were all out in full force with Road Safety Corps to enforce Road Safety regulations; an exercise which led to the arrest of over fifty vehicles that don`t meet safety requirements.
Director Panda Noah described the operation as one that will bring sanity to road safety and mitigate accidents as the rainy season approaches and that the operation has given a clear indication that the presence of the SLRSA needs to be felt there, if they are to win the fight in Road Safety.
“Most of what we have seen here today has been the real causes of highway accidents. Drivers are plying the highway without any driver’s license and the vehicles are not in working order. I was shocked to see some government vehicles been impounded here today because they have not been registered since 2017. This is going to be an operation that will continue and I don’t mind to move my office here as long as Road Safety is enforced,” he avowed.
Director Noah expressed his disappointment over authorities that were making telephone calls for their vehicles to be released, an action he strongly resisted and called on authorities to support the law for the right thing to be done.
The Board Chairman, Sheik Mustapha Bawoh on arrival, engaged the Management to provide vehicles to transport passengers that were stranded to Masiaka in order for them to continue their journey with other vehicles. He admonished passengers not to see the operation as a witch-hunt as it was never directed at anyone, but to protect the lives of travelers. “We are doing this operation in order to ensure that statistics on road accident is reduced drastically because every life on this road is important to us. This is not going to be business as usual and we will ensure that Road Safety regulations are enforced to the letter and that is why we are engaging and working with the Sierra Leone Police at all time so that our laws could be fully enforced,” he said emphatically.
Chairman Bawoh said that if drivers are complying with safety rules, there is no need to have lots of checkpoints on highways. He blamed the Motor Drivers Union at the various lorry parks for allowing unregistered vehicles and drivers without valid licenses to load passengers; an act which he said is undermining their efforts.
The Resident Minister for North West, Haja Isata Abdulai Kamara congratulated the ED of SLRSA for exactly demonstrating what he knew and that illegal checkpoints have been responsible for drivers overloading their vehicles beyond capacity in order for them to meet the excess costs along the routes.
Mohamed Habib Kamara, Head of Waterloo Branch of the SLRSA said that the operation detected that drivers are using licenses of other people, vehicle plying without license and overloading leading to fleeing of the drivers when they were intercepted during the checking because they don’t have any document.
The Director of Traffic Operation, Idriss Kargbo said that a similar raid was conducted by the Police on Thursday and over twenty drivers have been charged to court for various offences. The operation was meant to be conducted by both the SLRSA and the Police, but throughout the process, there was hardly any police officer taking part, which has raised serious concern. The last time a similar raid was conducted by the SLRSA was in 2015 and that operation met a stiff resistant from Al Sheik Kamara at the time.
Amadu Barrie, a driver from Guinea welcomed the move, but cautioned that it should not just be a camouflage that will not last, but a continuous process in order to get illegal checkpoints removed.