State agencies have failed Kenyans again

In Kenya, public officials don’t take responsibility for mistakes that have led to deaths. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Surely, road traffic deaths is the most neglected epidemic in this country. Indeed, road traffic injuries represent a major public health crisis in this nation.

Yet public policy responses remain muted. If the accident that occurred in Londiani this week where 55 people lost their lives senselessly had happened in Tanzania, many heads would have rolled by now.

The political leadership in Tanzania has a better sense of public outrage and would appear to be superior when it comes to holding regulatory bodies to account- and forcing individuals running law enforcing agencies to take responsibility for mistakes they commit.

You just have to compare the way the Tanzanian leadership responded after the recent ferry tragedy in Lake Victoria. President John Magufuli dissolved the entire board of The Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra), including it’s chairman, Dr John Ndanguru.

He took this bold decision after it emerged that the ill-fated ferry had been overloaded. Yet watching the CEO of the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) Francis Meja and the Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet at a joint press conference, their body language and utterances were not of public officials ready to take responsibility for the fatal bus accident.

The duo came through as over defensive, displaying the usual mindset of blaming the victims of the perennial accidents, implying that accidents would not happen if commuters were just a little more careful.

Indeed, the crux of Mr Boinnet’s message at the press conference was a caution to members of the public to exercise more responsibility by taking care when travelling in public buses and on motor cycles.

The crying need of the hour was for authority and law enforcement to give re- assurances to members of the public who commute in buses every day that everything was in control and that measures would be taken to prevent future accidents.

The utterances by the NTSA boss were even less reassuring to users of public transport. Mr Meja came out to make the sensational revelation that many sub-standard buses were still on the roads ferrying unwitting members of the public from Nairobi to different parts of the country.

The buses, he revealed, were not built in compliance with the legally stipulated construction standards. Had the ill-fated bus been built with the stipulated standards, he added, the fatalities in the Londiani accident would have been fewer.

In Kenya, public officials don’t take responsibility for mistakes that have led to deaths. Mr Meja and Mr Boinnet exhibited the mindset that they were not accountable for the ill-fated accident.

Yet preliminary evidence coming from the Londiani accident showed that the ill-fated bus was not only overloaded, but did not have third party insurance.

How on earth can a public service bus without third party insurance be allowed to carry and transport human beings? It shows the lack of capacity within the NTSA and the police- the entities that regulate and enforce road safety laws and regulations.

Created with fanfare in 2012 and touted as the solution to perennial road accidents, the NTSA has evolved into a bureaucracy that neither has the resources nor the capability to perform its mandate. Is it not the height of irony that the NTSA has publicly admitted that these traps are out there carrying unwitting passengers.

As a country, we are proving adept at coming up with laws and creating institutions that don’t work. Let’s rethink the role of the police in road safety matters. An overhaul of the NTSA is an imperative.