General News of 2014-02-21

Govt writes to Legon to stop collecting tolls

The controversy over the collection of road tolls at the University of Ghana may soon come to an end, with the Ministry of Roads and Highways having requested for a dialogue with the university to work out modalities for the payment of debts incurred by the university to maintain the roads on the campus.

The ministry has, consequently, asked the authorities of the university to discontinue the collection of tolls, as the ministry has decided to absolve the university from its financial commitment for the maintenance of the roads on the campus in a letter addressed to the university.

Controversy

The decision of the university to collect tolls from February 1, 2014 to pay back the loan contracted for the maintenance of the roads has become a subject of controversy and public anger.

While the university maintains that beside the repayment of its GHc1.3 million loan facility, the tolls are meant to reduce the uncharacteristically heavy traffic that slows down the movement of staff and students considerably within the campus, thereby significantly affecting academic work, a section of the public maintains that the exercise is causing distress on the Legon road, for which reason it should be discontinued.

Even though Parliament has put its stamp on the initiative, the government has opposed the payment, with the Chief of Staff advising the university to rescind its decision.

In spite of calls by the government on the authorities of the university to rescind their decision to collect the tolls, it appears the authorities do not have the intention to back down on their stance.

Not even the demolition of the uncompleted toll booth by the National Security last Tuesday changed the mind of the university authorities about the tolls collection.

However, the terse letter signed by the Minister of Roads and Highways, Mr Amidu Sulemani, and addressed to the Vice-Chancellor of the university and copied the Chief of Staff said, “We are requesting the university to discontinue with the collection of tolls on the roads for the repayment of the funds for the maintenance works.”

University responds to letter

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, told the Daily Graphic that the university had received the letter and referred it to the University Council.

According to him, the council had asked the government to sit down with the university management to discuss the whole Legon roads issue as soon as possible.

Asked whether the university would stop collecting the tolls after the latest twist, he said it was only the University Council that had the mandate to take a decision on the matter.

To pull the brakes on the toll collection, two students of the university have sued the institution at the Supreme Court.

The two, who brought the action in their capacity as Ghanaians, are praying the Supreme Court to stop the university from charging the said road tolls.

But the letter said the decision was without “prejudice to the pending suits challenging the tolling before the Supreme Court”.

Background

The authorities of the university secured a facility of GH¢1.3 million to rehabilitate the campus roads which deteriorated during the construction of the N1 Highway. The Ministry of Roads and Highways had prevailed upon the university authorities to allow the campus to be used as a thoroughfare during the construction of the N1 Highway but the authorities had to rely on a loan to rehabilitate the roads.

The collection of the tolls is, therefore, being done to enable the authorities to pay back the loan and also help in the maintenance of the new roads.

On February 1, the university followed up on its announcement to implement a road toll scheme amid controversy.

By that arrangement, all vehicles entering the main campus and those using the road passing through the Staff Village have to pay user charges.

What the laws say

University of Ghana Act Article 16 (1) of Act 806, which deals with the powers of the University Council, states: “Subject to the provision of this act, the University Council shall have the power to do or provide for any act or thing in relation to the university which the council considers necessary or expedient in its capacity as the governing body of the university.“

Section 16 (2) states: “The conferment of particular powers on the University Council by other provisions of this act shall not be taken to limit the generality of this section.”

Section 23 (1) (a) states that the university shall have power for any purpose which the council considers necessary or expedient, or (b) for the purpose of the performance of the functions of the university, to acquire and hold movable or immovable property, sell, lease, mortgage or otherwise alienate or dispose of that property and to enter into any other transaction.

Section 24 (1) states: “The funds of the university include (a) subventions from the Government of Ghana; (b) moneys that accrue to the university in the performance of its functions, consisting of (i) fees paid by students duly registered by the university; (ii) fees, charges and dues in respect of services rendered by or through the university; (iii) proceeds from the sale of publications of the university; (iv) grants, subscriptions, rents and royalties; (c) interest from investments; (d) endowments, donations and gifts; and (e) moneys from any other source approved by the council.”

1992 Constitution

That notwithstanding, Article 174(1) (2) of the 1992 Constitution states: “No taxation shall be imposed otherwise than by or under the authority of an Act of Parliament.

“Where an act, enacted in accordance with Clause (1) of this article, confers power on any person or authority to waive or vary a tax imposed by that act, the exercise of power of waiver of variation in favour of any person or authority shall be subject to the prior approval of Parliament by resolution.”