Long wait for decision on right hand drive cars

Rwandans, especially the right hand drive (RHD) car lovers, will have to wait a bit longer to know whether the government will okay importation of RHD vehicles or not.
A new LHD car like this one costs almost twice as much as its RHD counterpart. (File photo)
A new LHD car like this one costs almost twice as much as its RHD counterpart. (File photo)

Rwandans, especially the right hand drive (RHD) car lovers, will have to wait a bit longer to know whether the government will okay importation of RHD vehicles or not. According to Peterson Mutabazi, the principal engineer in charge of transport at the Ministry of Infrastructure, they have already received a report from a South African firm contracted by ministry in September last year to study the issue and make recommendations to help the government decide on the matter.

“We received the report last week, but it has not yet been validated. We are going to review it… if it is conclusive, then we will seek more advice on the matter before making any decisions,” Mutabazi said. 

The firm had released an initial report this year, which the government rejected “because it was inconclusive and lacked science-based evidence that could help government make a concrete decision”. This will be a second report on the matter.

The government had earlier indicated it would release the report that details technical review on whether to lift the ban on importation of RHD cars or not by the end of October.

A couple of months ago, the government allowed the importation of right hand drive commercial trucks to facilitate cross-border trade and support the private sector. This followed a lot of lobbying by the private sector, who were arguing that they were being out-competed by regional rivals for lucrative logistics deals.

The new development could, however, dampen hopes of motorists like Fulgence Twayigire, a taxi driver in Kigali, who was waiting for the ban to be lifted to sell his left hand drive (LHD) Toyota Corona vehicle and buy a RHD Noah.

“The money I get after selling this small and old left hand drive is enough to buy me a brand new Noah 2000 model. I know that a LHD vehicle is stronger than a RHD one, but my kind of job requires a bigger car,” Twayigire told Business Times in an exclusive interview.

But he will have to wait a little bit longer or even have his dream crashed if the government stays the ban on right hand drive cars.

In 2005, the government gave owners of right hand drive vehicles an ultimatum of four years to get rid of them.

However, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Infrastructure in 2008 found that 52 per cent of the people interviewed favoured a switch to the left, while 32 per cent preferred to maintain the current system.

In the East African Community, it is only Rwanda and Burundi that drive on the right, while Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania use the left. Will this have a bearing on the final government decision now expected at least by the end of the year?

Case for RHD vehicles

“Right hand drive cars are affordable… if you are talking of fighting poverty or taking a leading role in regional integration, then you have no choice but harmonise your driving side by lifting a ban on the importation of RHD cars,” Gilbert Gisagara, a car dealer in Gikondo, noted.

Abdoul Ndarubogoye, the vice-president of Rwanda Transporters Association, argued that lifting the ban on the importation of RHD cars ‘could positively impact the economy’.

“We are happy the government allowed importation of RHD commercial trucks. This will enhance the capacity of the private sector and make it more competitive in regional trade.

“However, it should lift the ban on all the categories of cars because it will have cross-cutting benefits in all sectors, including revenue collection and the petroleum business, among many others,” Ndarubogoye noted.

His views are shared by the chairman Private Sector Federation (PSF) Benjamin Gasamagera.
“It can greatly boost the clearing and forwarding sector, but also stimulate the level of production and competitiveness across the region,” Gasamagera noted.

To allow or not to allow RHD cars

However, government is still reluctant to fully lift the ban despite a request from the East African Community secretariat.

According to Mutabazi, there are a lot of issues to look into, like harmonising driving sides and the cost and the implication of such a decision (switching to left).

“We had instructed them to clearly show us in detail in the study what it means to lift the ban or switch driving sides and whether it is necessary,” Mutabazi told Business Times in an earlier interview.

Mixed reactions from revenue body

While government is yet to give its final verdict on the issue, there is mixed reaction from the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA).

Some customs officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said lifting a ban on all RHD vehicles will be a right step towards increasing government revenues. However, another official revealed that a crackdown on all right hand drive cars, especially those that have overstayed their temporally permits would be intensified.

“A part from those importing heavy trucks, no one else will be authorised to import right hand drive vehicles, the law is clear,” the officer said.

“In fact, we recently discovered that some of these people keep crossing in and out of the country and that’s why we have decided to tighten the noose on them,” he added.

Another source said the office responsible for extending temporary permits for owners of RHD vehicles could soon be closed.

Likely consequences

According to our sources at the Rwanda Development Transport Agency (RTDA), harmonising driving sides could cost government billions of francs.

“The discussion should not only focus on whether to switch sides or lift a ban, but on the cost of changing infrastructure and the possible resultant accidents. Switching will require changing road signage, deploying more traffic officers to guide the public on the new developments, investing in driving schools and revisiting our standards on road safety. This is a cost that may be difficult to meet given other priorities government is currently focusing on,” the source explained.

Car cost issue

According to Olivier Nzeyimana, the vice president of the Association of Car Importers, car prices vary from type and model.

“However, there are other factors that determine the final price, including taxes and the cost of transportation,” Nzeyimana said.

According to market prices, RHD vehicles cost less than LHD cars.

Harmonisation of driving sides by EAC member states was one of the recommendations adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2012.

About 35 per cent of countries in the world drives on the left, mostly former British colonies.