OVER 15 containers of ‘akanozasuku,’ head covers worn under a helmet by motorbike passengers to protect against contracting infections, are stuck in a warehouse at Magerwa dry port.
The importer, East African Cleanliness and Health Company, says that it now owes Rwanda Revenue Authority tax arrears in excess of Rwf200 million, which the tax body has been kind enough to allow a grace period.
But the company managing director, Buruga JM Claude, is now worried that RRA could run out of patience.
“We kept begging for time from customs and they understood our concerns. But we are worried that anytime, they can change their mind,” Buruga said.
His company was the first to supply the head covers to taxi motorcyclists in July 2011 when it was decided that passengers must wear them for hygienic purposes.
According to the investor, the business went on well for a very short time before running into trouble when the Ministry of Health “failed to put in place clear instructions and campaigns to ensure passengers and cyclists consume the product.”
This, he said, has left his Rwf 1.2bn investment in jeopardy.
“Though the Ministry of Health had suggested tax exemption, we pay Rwf 10 per piece and we owe RRA Rwf 200 million in addition to demurrage to the warehouse,” he said.
He blames the ministry for failure to mobilise the public as earlier promised.
However, Spencer Bugingo, the Legal Advisor to Ministry of Health told, The New Times that instructions on the use of head covers had been drafted and sent to the Ministry of Justice for a legal opinion expected to be published soon.
In 2006, the Ministry of Health expressed concerns over the sharing of helmets, saying they could transmit skin infections. But police maintained that the helmet was the only protection against head injury in case of an accident.
As a compromise, the two institutions upheld the use of helmets, but sought ways of protecting users from infections.
This saw the launch of ‘akanozasuku’ by the Ministry of Health and the City of Kigali in August 30, 2011.
“For two days, the program worked, but after that, motorcycle taxi operators started complaining that it was expensive and proposed that the cost be borne by passengers. But Rwanda Utility Regulatory Authority rejected the idea,” Buruga said. Each head cover costs Rwf35.
Several meetings have since been held to find ways of enforcing the policy, but police said there were no punitive sanctions to deal with the offenders.
But Traffic Police spokesman, Sup. JMV Ndushabandi, said tht the importer should not apportion blame because public institutions do not work on interests of individuals.
“Let him use marketing strategies to compete with others, because many people have now invested in the same business,” he said.
Ndushabandi added that police follows its own programme when enforcing traffic rules and does not need to check on the use of head covers on daily basis.
In one of the many meetings, it was proposed in one of the meetings that the ministry issues instructions on use of head covers to give it legal basis, but the instruction have been found inadequate.
The instructions, released on February 3, 2012, sought to engage and sensitise the public and motorcyclists on the use of the head covers. However, police said there was no provision for sanctions. Even the amendment of July 2012 presented no major changes.
Concerned institutions sat together again, and it was decided that decentralised entities should enforce this punitive measure and a fine of Rwf 10,000 was imposed against any motorcyclist who failed to provide a passenger with a head cover.
The City of Kigali published instructions in the national gazette of August 2012, however, police still discovered that the instructions were limited to the City of Kigali, leaving out the rest of the country. The issues returned to Ministry of Health for further action.