Foreign experts seek review of right hand drive car law

Kinene, an expatriate working in Kigali, has to drive back to the border town of Kabale in Uganda in his foreign-registered car every three months. The practice is necessary if he is to  re-register his car and get another three-month permit. Kinene has been doing this for about two years now.
Government banned the importation of right hand drive cars in 2009. File photo
Government banned the importation of right hand drive cars in 2009. File photo

Kinene, an expatriate working in Kigali, has to drive back to the border town of Kabale in Uganda in his foreign-registered car every three months. The practice is necessary if he is to  re-register his car and get another three-month permit. Kinene has been doing this for about two years now.

Kinene, who works for a health facility in Kigali, risks paying a 20 per cent fine and have his car impounded by the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) if he does not perform the quarterly ‘ritual’. This inconveniencing ritual is performed by most of the owners of foreign-registered right hand drive cars working in Rwanda.

“We request government to look into this matter because it’s inconveniencing for one working in Kigali to have to drive back to Kenya or Uganda every three months so they can re-register their car. Our vehicles should be treated as the rest. Besides, we have work permits,” argued one of the expatriates.

According to the law, foreign-registered cars are given a two-week free, temporary import certificate. This can then be extended to three months if the owner has genuine reasons to stay in the country. The law also requires that foreign-registered car owners pay $30 (Rwf20,000) a month.   

After the expiry of the three months, one has no choice but to cross back to their country of origin and re-enter Rwanda or risk a fine of 20 per cent the value of the vehicle and have the car confiscated by the tax body.

The ritual, according to the expatriates, is inconveniencing and very expensive in terms of the cost and time, especially where one has to seek ‘emergency’ leave to conduct the ritual. “We appeal to regional authorities to look into this matter now that they are fast-tracking the single customs territory.”

Recently, transporters also urged the government to change its stand on right hand drive cargo trucks.

RRA speaks out  


William Musoni, the head of field operations at the Rwanda Revenue Authority, said foreign-registered cars must abide by the country’s laws. The policy of registering foreign cars cuts across East African Community (EAC) trade bloc, aims at tracking stolen vehicles and restricting vices, including car smuggling, according to Musoni.

“We are supposed to provide a report of cars that entered and crossed back into our territory every month to colleagues in the partner states,” Musoni explained.

He advised foreign workers to go through the various institutions they work for to get temporally importation number plates, which are renewed each year.

But the expatriates said the problem is that RRA does not issue temporary number plates to right hand drive cars. Musoni also said using right hand drive cars compromises road safety management.

“Rwanda is a left hand drive country... permitting right hand drive cars comes at a high cost, in terms of increased accidents, as well as property and road infrastructure destruction,” he explained.

According to Richard Tusabe, the Rwanda Revenue Authority deputy commissioner general, the issue is a big challenge that the architects of the single customs territory must examine. “We appreciate the expertise these people bring to the country, but they need to understand the importance of laws and paying taxes,” he said.

Foreign workers argue that they cannot afford left hand drive cars, saying they are expensive compared to right hand vehicles. While a BMW left hand drive, model 2007, goes for about Rwf14m, one needs Rwf7m for the same right hand drive model from Dubai, Internet car sales indicate. A left hand Mercedes Benz model 2013 costs about Rwf20m, which is twice the price of a right hand drive one.

In 2005, government issued an ultimatum to right-hand drive vehicle owners to get rid of them within four years. However, some Rwandans still have right-hand drive cars.

According to a survey conducted by Ministry of Infrastructure in 2008, 52 per cent of the people interviewed favoured the switch to the left, while 32 per cent preferred the current system (keep right). A Ministerial Order of April 29, 2009 prohibited new right hand drive vehicles from being imported into the country.

Quebec experience

A study in Quebec, Canada in 2007 and 2008 showed that there were increased risks. The right hand drive cars were causing more accidents than left hand drive cars.

Government speaks out


Peterson Mutabazi, the principal transport engineer at Ministry of Infrastructure, said the ministry is currently conducting a study on whether the country should switch to the keep right policy.

“The study will look at the ratio of vehicles compared to existing road infrastructure, cost, international recommendations and the EAC integration situation.  

“We will also analyse the factors that led us to adapt left hand drive cars and see if they are still relevant within the context of the EAC and what the World Health Organisation recommends. These will guide us on the action on this matter, but we go with what works best for us. If the findings reveal that it is safer to drive on the left, then we shall advise member states to switch,” Mutabazi said.

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