...Traffic wardens versus lawless motorists’ debacle
April 25, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
Some twenty years ago, the Road Transport Authority Act brought into existence the emergence of the Sierra Leone Road Transport Authority (now the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority).
It was established to regulate and develop the road transport industry, including the registration and licensing of vehicles, processing drivers’ license, prescription of routes for passenger and goods transportation and for other matters connected with the foregoing.
One of the functions of the Authority, according to section 9 subsection 2 (d) of Act No. 4 of 1996, is to promote road safety through the establishment and dissemination of a code of conduct to be known as ‘the High way Code for drivers and other users of roads and highway’.
In addition to that, the Road Transport Authority (Amendment) Act of 2003 herald the emergence of the corps of traffic wardens under the Directorate of Road Safety and Enforcement.
In the early days of the advent of the traffic wardens, there was mixed feelings among the general public as some were of the view that the new traffic wardens would mean the removal of Police personnel from the streets. Others were of the conviction that traffic wardens have been brought to the scene because of the allegations that Traffic Police Officers were extorting money from motorists. In the earlier days the traffic wardens were locally referred to as ‘mumu police’, meaning dumb Police officers.
Sierra Leoneans awoke one morning and saw men and women in blue-black trousers and white shirts distributing tickets to motorists as if though they were football organisers. “This was a very strange experience to us as much sensitisation with regards the advent of the traffic wardens was not done at that time,” said Osman Ben Kanu of the Sierra Leone Motor Drivers Union.
In contrast to these views, section 26 (b) of the Act states that the object of the corps of traffic wardens was to complement traffic duties ascribed to the Sierra Leone Police Force.
According to the RTA (Amendment) Act of 2003, the functions of the traffic wardens shall include, controlling and regulating traffic, to render the roads free from unnecessary obstruction and ensure the free flow of traffic, to educate the public on road safety, to divert traffic from the scene in the case of an accident, among others.
Section 26 (e) states that a traffic warden shall have power to tow away or clamp the wheel of any vehicle which is parked in any road, pavement or side-walk in contravention of the Road Traffic Act 1964 or the Road Traffic Regulations 1960 or any regulations made under this Act.
Section 26 (e) subsection (3) of the Road Transport Authority (Amendment) Act of 2003 states that no traffic warden or person acting on the instruction of a traffic warden shall be liable for any damage which may be caused to the vehicle as a result of the towing or clamping.
The above statutory mandate given to traffic wardens accords them power to perform the kind of job they are doing today.
But the act of clamping of wheels of vehicles and towing of vehicles that are parked on streets, including those that are involved in road accidents, have over the years raised eyebrows among many Sierra Leone, who think that it is unconstitutional for traffic wardens to perform such task.
Over and again, traffic wardens have faced molestations from officials of government, the general public and lawless motorists. On the other hand, Traffic Police Officers have frown at traffic wardens, who they detest for discharging similar responsibilities like the Police. In most cases, Traffic Police Officers consider themselves superior to traffic wardens. This is because the former has mandate to charge to court lawless motorists while the latter rely on the issuance of tickets for violating traffic rules.
In fact, authorities of the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority, two years ago engaged the Directorate of the Traffic Management and Road Safety, including its members, the Drivers Union, Paramount Chiefs and other stakeholders in the transport sector to tell them there is no supremacy between Traffic Police and traffic warden, as they two complement each other’s efforts.
Among one of the challenges traffic wardens have been facing in Sierra Leone from government officials is, but not limited to, the imprisonment of one traffic warden on the orders of a senior official of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The incident ensued at Siaka Stevens Street when the traffic warden stopped the senior government official because he was driving a vehicle with an expired license and insurance. The official did not stop but went ahead to tell another senior Police Officer at the Central Police station to arrest and charge to court the traffic warden. The warden spent few days at the Pademba Road Correctional Centre, only to be released after the media and civil society activists, including officials of the SLRSA, raised their voice against the injustice meted on the poor warden.
Lawlessness among Sierra Leonean motorists is on the increase even though the SLRSA and traffic wardens have been making efforts to curb it. Already, most of the major streets in the municipality of Freetown have been overtaken by street garages. Many motorists opt to fix their faulty vehicles on the street, thereby hindering the free flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Also, private vehicle owners and business people are in the habit of parking their vehicles on the street, thus making it an eyesore to foreigners and the general public.
Traffic wardens have embarked on towing and clamping of wheels of vehicles parked on the street but they are most times faced with humiliation and intimidation from the public. This unacceptable molestation, including calls from senior government officials to release towed and clamped vehicles without any penalty, makes traffic wardens look like a cat chasing a rat in a land controlled by tigers.
If Sierra Leone is to succeed in the eradication of street garages and create a way for the free flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in especially the municipality of Freetown, traffic wardens should be allowed to tow and clamp lawless motorists without interference from senior government officials and the public.
Besides, if the municipality of Freetown is free from traffic congestion, the government would receive the larger portion of the commendation than the traffic wardens.