Business News of 2014-05-23

Tussle over truck axle-load policy

Truckers and transport owners are currently tussling with the Ghana Highway Authority (GHA) over the new axle-load policy that limits 16-axle trucks to a load of up to 60 tonnes per transit trip.

The transporters argue fiercely that the limit will make them uncompetitive in the sub-regional transport business, with harsh effects on the economy.

They prefer the GHA to either allow them to load their trucks up to 68 tonnes -- as is the case in competing port countries like Nigeria and Togo -- or to create a standard limit that all players in the sub-region will comply with.

With the current different load limits, importers from landlocked countries are shifting to other transit ports in West Africa, where trucks can carry more load and do fewer trips for a given volume of cargo; thus giving neighbours a competitive advantage over Ghana.

But the plea from local transport owners is far from being accepted, as the GHA opines that the new policy will help to reduce accidents and breakdown of trucks as well as prolong the lifespan of the country’s roads.

A one-day stakeholders’ dialogue organised by the Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA) and the Borderless Alliance, a private-sector trade-facilitation organisation, ended this week without consensus.

The GHA started implementing the policy at the start of this year, but it has faced criticism from the affected players -- notably the Ghana Haulage Transporters Association (GHATOA) and the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders.

Minister for Roads and Highways Amin Amidu Sulemani, speaking to the issue at the dialogue in Accra, said people should not only be concerned about the revenue that will be lost by truckers or government, but also the rapid deterioration of the country’s road infrastructure.

“When the issue of axle-load is raised, most people look in the direction of the dynamics of revenue generation to truckers and, to a large extent, government. But they do not factor in safety on our roads as well as the cost of rapid and premature deterioration of roads, which leads to frequent reinvestment in the same infrastructure,” he said.

Deputy Transport Minister Joyce Bawah-Mogtari said government is much concerned about the overloading of trucks, which causes damage to roads.

“Overloading results in frequent breakdowns and accidents, and this requires quick attention. The implementation of the new axle-load regime has come with various challenges, but government is committed to strict enforcement of the regulations.

“Government is ready to work with key stakeholders in the transport sector to tackle challenges in order to allow for cost-effective, efficient and safe transportation of goods along the country’s corridors. This is in line with its vision of making Ghana a major transit hub within the sub-region.”

Transport players are, however, more worried about the impact of the policy on the country’s ability to win back declining transit trade.

For instance, a general manager of a top transport company in the country said it has moved more than 150 of its fleet of trucks out of the Tema Port to neighbouring ports as a result of the axle load limitation.

“We have 200 trucks, but as we speak, we have only 25 trucks at the Tema Port. The rest have been moved to other ports where the business has moved to. Obviously, there will be job-losses; and the income from the trade has been shifted out of the country,” he said.

From peak levels of more than one million tonnes per annum between 2005 and 08, transit trade volumes through the Tema and Takoradi Ports have shown an uneven trend since 2009. The situation seems to back the argument that the new axle-load regime will not help Ghana recover lost ground in transit traffic.

Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Shippers’ Authority Dr. Kofi Mbiah said his outfit believes that a harmonised axle-load limit for the sub-region will enhance free movement of goods and services, adding that the situation whereby the load limit does not favour one side of the competition does not provide for a level playing field.

“We need to debate this axle-load issue. We are concerned about the deterioration of our roads, but we need to balance it against trade efficiency. As a region, we trade among ourselves; so if we have countries that have a higher axle load limit, there will definitely be a problem in the movement of cargo.

“The need for harmonisation therefore becomes critical; we need a high-level committee at regional level to look at the practical issues on the ground,” he told B&FT in an interview.