Ghana’s maintenance culture...The case of the Buipe, Yapei bridges

BY: Severious Kale-Dery
The rehabilitated Buipe Bridge
The rehabilitated Buipe Bridge

In our part of the world, we love new things and as a national culture, we take delight in putting up new facilities such as school blocks, hospitals, roads and office buildings.

What is absent is the maintenance culture. Thus, many of our busy roads are grounded with potholes, while our beautiful buildings inaugurated with fanfare are in disrepair within the shortest possible time.

The number of national installations that have not had any maintenance since they were built many years ago cannot be counted because the list is unending. It, therefore, came as no surprise when the Ghana Highway Authority (GHA) closed down the Buipe and Yapei bridges in the Northern Region for major maintenance works on them on the instruction of the Minister of Roads and Highways, Mr Akwasi Amoako-Atta.

 Workers of CJIC casting concrete on a portion of the bridge

Design lifespans


The decision to close down the two bridges to the travelling public was informed by their dilapidated condition that posed a threat to commuters.

The two bridges, constructed to last a minimum of 45 and maximum of 50 years, are currently about 54 years old, an indication that they have gone past their lifespan. Per their design, they should have been replaced as far back as 2013.

The two bridges had not seen any major rehabilitation and had been left to their fate until the minister gave the directive to prevent a “national catastrophe” as the two bridges were long past their lifespan and needed immediate attention to save the country from an imminent disaster.

The closure of the bridges which serve as a link on the Central Corridor N1 Road, stretching from Paga through Tamale, Kumasi to Accra, was met with stiff opposition not only by the people in that part of the country but also by the travelling public. Their position was that the government did not provide alternative routes for the travellers.

Mr Kwasi Amoako Atta and his team inspecting the damaged portion of the bridge

Justification

However, the sector minister justified the four-week total closure of the two bridges, explaining that the decision bordered on national security and that it was to avoid a “national catastrophe” as the two bridges were long past their lifespan and needed immediate attention to save the country from a disaster.

Implication of his action

In issuing the instruction for the complete closure of the bridges, the sector minister knew the consequences of that action and indeed, he knew he was putting his job on the line as his opponents would make political gains out of it.

The economic importance of this road, on which the two bridges serve as a conveyor belt for the heavy-duty vehicles that transport goods from the seaport in Tema to not only the northern part of the country, but also to the Sahelian countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali, cannot be overemphasised.

Therefore, closing the two bridges meant that economic activities would come to a standstill for those who rely on the road for their livelihood, especially the indigenes of the area who could not use the road and the neighbouring business community.

Mr Amoako-Attah explained that his ministry was aware of the inconveniences and the suffering the closure of the bridge would bring to the motoring public, particularly the people of the two communities, but added that it was for the best interest of the immediate users and the nation as a whole.

The major repair maintenance works, which were expected to last eight weeks, were done within a record time of four weeks to reduce the discomfort the repair works were exacting on users.

Leadership by example

The minister pledged to the nation his readiness to forfeit the Christmas holidays and stay at the site with his engineers if the job was not completed before then. He was prepared to leave the comfort of his family to spend the Christmas with the engineers and other workers on the site.

That definitely was a sign of leadership by example and no wonder the engineers redoubled their effort and were able to execute the task far earlier than scheduled. Such bravery by an appointee, to take on a task damning the consequence of the possibility of losing his political appointment, is what we expect from all government appointees.

There are instances where certain decisions which would benefit the generality of citizens have been sacrificed on the altar of personal interest by “stomach” politicians.

The good thing about such bold steps is that when the job is executed and the benefits are there for all to see, even those who criticised at the onset of the job will be the first to congratulate you for being brave. That was exactly what happened to Mr Amoako-Attah. Now, he is a hero because he stood his ground and damned the consequences.

Today, the two bridges are back to life and probably as solid as they were some 54 years ago when they were constructed.

 Mr Kwasi Amoako Atta (left), the Minister of Roads and Highways,  together with some senior officials from the ministry being briefed during their visit to the Buipe bridge

Lessons going forward

The lessons are there for all of us to learn; that when there is a job to be executed in the interest of the country and its people, we should not do anything for our own benefit.

Thankfully, the ministry has resolved to construct two new bridges alongside the current ones and in addition, is looking at rehabilitating all the over 100 bridges nationwide, most of which have also outlived their lifespan of construction designs.

Surely, Mr Amoako-Attah deserves congratulations for thinking of the bigger picture by putting his job on the line to get the work done. But Mr Minister, most of the roads in the country have become death traps. From ancillary roads to urban, feeder and highways, our roads certainly need immediate attention.

The role of technocrats

The zeal with which the sector minister has come to prosecute the agenda of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of investing in infrastructure may wither away if his directors and engineers, who are the technocrats, do not share in his vision.

The durability or otherwise of roads constructed using the hard-earned money of the taxpayer can easily be compromised if these technocrats are not up and doing; because they are expected to supervise the works of the contractors to ensure value for money.

As for the contractors, they are businessmen who are always looking out for any opportunity to maximise profit. So it behoves the technocrats to put them on their toes to deliver quality roads to the Ghanaian public.