Government will soon allow the importation of right hand drive trucks into the country. However the ban on importation of other right hand drive vehicles will remain, an official from the infrastructure ministry has said.
According to Peterson Mutabazi, the principle senior engineer at the Ministry of Infrastructure and the co-coordinator of the project, only importers of trucks of 30 tonnes and above will benefit from the initiative. He said the move is aimed at supporting local transporters and the logistics industry, adding that it will reduce the cost of doing business and enhance fair trade across the East Africa Community (EAC).
Mutabazi said the decision to allow importation of right hand drive trucks was reached at last month by the Cabinet to support Rwandan freight forwarders and transporters.
“The business community, especially freight forwarders and transporters, are complaining that they were being pushed out of business by their regional counterparts. So, the government’s decision will address this concern to make the local logistics industry more competitive,” he said.
However, the policy is yet to be gazetted to become operational, Mutabazi added.
Rwandan-based transporters incur the costs when they drive over 1,000 km to Mombasa to load Kigali-bound cargo from the coastal port.
Rwandan truckers usually drive the over 1,500 km to Mombasa without cargo. Though the same applies for right hand drive Ugandan or Kenyan registered trucks, the truckers from the two countries cover a shorter distance.
“As a result, many of our transporters are buying right hand drive trucks which they register in Uganda or Kenya. It’s therefore from this commercial point of view that government decided to allow importation of right hand drive trucks,” Mutabazi explained.
“How it works is that left hand drive Rwandan registered vehicles are not always allowed to load en route to the sea port, making it difficult especially when you are going to driver over 1,500 km without cargo.
“This is not the case with right hand drive Ugandan or Kenyan trucks because the law only affects them for a short distance of 80 km (from Gatuna to Kigali),” Theodore Murenzi, the chairman of the Rwanda Long Distance Truck Drivers Association, told Business Times.
Easing the ban is good news and will greatly boost the sector, Murenzi noted. A source at Rwandan-based bus firm Trinity Bus Service said right hand vehicles are charged Ugsh100,000 (about Rwf35,000) each time they cross into Ugandan, “but buses that enter Rwanda are not charged any fee”.
“It is frustrating that we have had to buy right hand drive vehicles and register them in Uganda,” another source added.
It’s been long coming
Commenting on the development, Callixte Nisingizwe, a Magerwa Gikondo-based transporter, said the policy will encourage fair trade across the region.
“It does not matter how many left hand drives trucks one owns, all we want is an initiative that will enhance fair trade. Thereafter, people will choose which way to go,” he said yesterday. “Why would you use a truck where the rate of return is minimal?” he quipped.
Nisingizwe said when the policy comes into effect, owners of left hand drive trucks will reassign them to routes that share same driving sides like Burundi or DR Congo.
In 2005, the government issued an ultimatum to right-hand drive vehicle owners to get rid of their cars within a period of four years.
However, in 2008 a survey conducted by Ministry of Infrastructure top consultants indicated that 52 per cent of the people interviewed, favoured the switch to the left, while 32 per cent would prefer to maintain the current system.
Decision on right hand drive cars out soon
Meanwhile, government is waiting for a final report to make a final decision on whether to allow the importation of right hand drive vehicles into the country or stay the ban.
According to Mutabazi, the final report is expected to be handed over to government next month.
“The government will base on this report to take a decision whether to switch to the left like some of the other EAC partner states, including Uganda and Kenya.”
In September last year, government hired a South African firm to conduct the study on the issue and come up with recommendations.
Mutabazi said, however, government rejected the report as it lacked science-based evidence to enable government make a decision on the matter.
“They had only based the report on price comparisons and the cost of vehicles which was not convincing enough. We have, therefore, asked them to provide us with a conclusive report that would address arrange of issues, including the different tax regimes, the economic impact and what should be done in case we to switch to the left...we expect this report completed latest in October .”
Harmonisation of driving sides by EAC member states was one of the recommendations the East African Community secretariat commissioned in the report that was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2012. Rwanda and Burundi are the only EAC countries that drive on the right hand side.
Samuel Mporanzi, the Rwanda Standards Board standards’ lead officer, argues that it is highly recommended that EAC partner states harmonise driving standards as part of the implementation of road transport and safety management standards.
In the mean time, government will maintain the $30 monthly fee on those who use right hand drive vehicles in the country.
About 35 per cent of the world population drives on the left, especially former British colonies.
In West Africa countries like Cameroon and Ghana switched from left hand drive to right hand drive cars.
Sierra Leone, which was supposed to ban all right hand drive vehicles in the country effective September 1, has postponed the decision to January 1, 2015.