Tuesday, December 31, 2013

'Glorifying second-hand motor vehicles'
By Editor
Tue 12 Nov. 2013, 14:00 CAT

PRESIDENT Michael Sata's sentiments on the "glorifying" of second-hand motor vehicles are valid.

But they must not be left as mere sentiments. They must be turned into law. A policy position has been taken by the President and the bureaucrats now need to get down to work and formulate that into a clear government policy from which the necessary laws can flow.

National guidance is needed on the importation of second-hand motor vehicles. As things stand today, one can say things are out of control and a good part of our national income is being spent on the importation of spare parts to service these clearly rotten automobiles. We also have an unjustified huge fuel bill.

The number of automobiles on our roads does not tie up with our national income. Even our road infrastructure is overstretched. Today an average worker can afford to have two, three or four cars parked at their homes. Those with a bit more money are looking for more days to be added to the week or the month for them to be able to drive each of their automobiles.

Compounds are overcrowded with cars. Our police stations have become parking grounds for cars. Everywhere you go, someone is repairing a car instead of engaging in more profitable work that would help develop the nation. We have all these cars and yet we have a serious shortage of agricultural tractors and other implements. If a large part of our fuel bill was spent on agricultural production, our country wouldn't be playing host today to so many poor people, so many malnourished children.

Some of the automobiles we are importing are from places where there have been nuclear plant accidents and could therefore be contaminated. We do not have facilities in our health institutions to deal with radiation. Yet, we are simply taking every car that is awaiting crushing.

The development of public transport is in shambles because no one is seriously paying attention to this as everyone is free to bring in a second-hand car for US$500, US$1,000, US$2,000 and so on and so forth.

This is not to say those who don't have a lot of money to buy brand new cars should not own a car. All we are trying to say is that let this be rationalised and as President Sata correctly put it, let us not "glorify" second-hand cars. Let us not turn a weakness into a virtue. Government needs to rationalise and control the importation of second-hand vehicles for many reasons.

Some of the cars we are importing are being exported because they do not meet the carbon emission requirements of their countries. They are a hazard to the environment. But us we simply take them in. Yes, we are poor but poverty should not make one drink poison. They say there is dignity even in poverty. Our poverty should not make us fail to reason.

We do not have a magic formula on how our government should deal with the issue of second-hand motor vehicles. But it should be clear to all that the current practice has a lot of faults and needs change. These second-hand motor vehicles are not only draining our country of the necessary foreign exchange but they are also a danger to the health of our people and the environment they live in.

Some of these cars are not even roadworthy or stop being roadworthy in a very short time, endangering the lives not only of those who imported them but of many other people on our roads. The high carbon emissions and high accident rates of these used cars cannot be ignored.

If it is not possible, for many reasons, to put a complete ban on imported second hand motor vehicles, it may be necessary to put a ban that targets vehicles beyond a certain age, say three, four, five or six years and those that do not pass a set carbon emissions threshold.

Zambia has been turned into a dumping site for second-hand cars, some of which are more than 10, 15 years old and this has a negative effect on the environment.

Some countries, like Japan, which have strict carbon emissions laws, have created a massive industry in second-hand car exports to poor third world countries like Zambia.

A great number of these cars we are importing have been banned on the roads in their original country, with Zambia turning into their dumping site. It's up to us to aggressively stand up against such kind of exploitation. Our government has a duty to save lives, protect us and our environment.

And a way has to be found to bring down the cost of brand new cars because they are out of the reach of many people. It will not be easy to simply ban the importation of second-hand cars without providing alternatives for our people who have become used to a culture of owning cars.

Our people may find it acceptable to use public transport in Europe or America but not here. Here it is something they may find humiliating to be standing in a queue for transport.

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