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Why I support the Amoako-Attah controversial proposal

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

I was elated when earlier this year Roads and Highways Minister Kwasi Amoako-Attah reportedly announced that the now disused highway tollbooths would be converted into washrooms.

The necessity of having rest stops and washrooms along Ghana’s highways is an idea I have promoted over the years. That shortcoming is just one aspect of Ghana’s deplorable toilet availability story.

According to the Ghana Statistical Service figures quoted by Sanitation Minister Ms Cecilia Dapaah last year, “only 21 per cent have access to improved sanitation … more people have access to mobile phones than those with access to toilet facilities.”

As reported, Mr Amoako-Attah (also MP, Atiwa West), announced the proposal on February 8, after a meeting with National Road Safety Authority officials to discuss the aftermath of the cessation of road tolls. He reportedly told the media: “The Government will refurbish all those tollbooth structures to provide proper and decent washrooms, for use by motorists.”

Needless to say, as normal with new ideas, the Minister’s proposal immediately generated a lot of interest – but mainly condemnation and ridicule over the feasibility of such a conversion.

Writing in The Spectator last week, March 5, columnist Mr Charles Neequaye even described Mr Amoako-Attah’s innovative idea as an example of “loose talk”!

However, I see things very differently. As I stated on a social media platform on February 9, I understand “conversion” to mean that once that location has been created, using it for another purpose should be possible.

Furthermore, conceivably, some of the booths already have washrooms for staff, so why should the Minister’s idea appear so preposterous to some people?

Later, responding to a question in Parliament, Mr Amoako-Attah reportedly said that no firm decision had been taken; his Ministry was considering various proposals for the tollbooths abandoned following the Government’s decision to suspend road tolls.

I was looking forward eagerly to hearing some more details from Mr Amoako-Attah, especially how soon his proposal would be implemented, so I was disappointed to hear reports suggesting that owing to the criticisms, he was having a change of mind.

As indicated, the need for rest stops/washrooms along Ghana’s highways, the country’s general toilet situation, are subjects I have highlighted periodically, as the following excerpts show.
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What I wrote in 2014:
Tourists are encouraged to see the Ghanaian countryside, but what rest stops are available en route for their convenience?

For instance, from Kumasi to Dormaa-Ahenkro, is there a rest stop that the Tourism Ministry and the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) can recommend to tourists?

The Ministry and the GTA could design a model toilet or rest stop and invite private individuals to construct them along our highways to ensure the comfort of travellers.
(Column of August 29, 2014: A letter to Bojo Beach and a cue for the Tourism Ministry.)
2016:

I am intrigued by recent media reports about a ‘Tourism Hall of Fame’. Really? And will any of the prospective nominees qualify to be honoured as people through whose efforts Ghana now boasts of highway rest stops or decent toilets at our tourist sites?

Seemingly, we’re being told that (sector) conditions are first-rate.
But is that the case?

Who will qualify as those through whose initiative Ghana now has highway places of convenience?
(September 9, 2016: Is a ‘Tourism Hall of Fame’ appropriate now?)
2017:

While Tourism Minister Catherine Afeku is deciding (how best) to put Ghana firmly on the world tourism map, I would like to suggest that she should start with the basics: availability of decent toilets at tourist sites and rest stops along Ghana’s highways.

Travellers on the Accra-Kumasi route were lucky that the Linda Dor Highway Rest Stop at Bunso Junction emerged on the scene years ago.

It should be possible for the Ministry of Tourism to facilitate private investment in the building of rest stops on all the highways, perhaps using a standard design.
(June 30, 2017: Putting Ghana on the world tourism map: basics first!)
2021:
A suggestion I made in this column three years ago is still relevant, I believe: Why can’t we have a ‘Toilet Task Force’ in every district or community?
(November, 27, 2021: Ghana’s shameful taflatse ranking: why not have toilet task forces?)

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On February 16, the Roads Ministry issued a statement to clarify their intention: Head of the Ministry’s Public Affairs Unit, Nasir Ahmad Yartey, said that contrary to “the gross misinformation”, the Ministry does not intend to convert the tollbooths into urinals.

Rather, their plan is to create urinals and other facilities where the tollbooths are located, Mr Yartey explained.

Anyhow, it would be a pity if the Minister should change his mind, discouraged by the criticisms. As history confirms, from time immemorial, and worldwide, new ideas and initiatives tend to be received with skepticism, sometimes scorn.

Examples are cited by Dutch innovation expert Gijs van Wulfen in his list of ‘10 great ideas which were initially rejected’, including:
“TELEPHONE: "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." (A Western Union internal memo dated 1876.)

Surely, the Minister would consult architectural and other experts, on how to make his plan a reality, especially the best design for a model that could be replicated all over.

Perhaps it's only people who travel long distances, or tourists, who can appreciate the need for washrooms along the highways. But in 2022 Ghana, why should motorists or passengers have to resort to the indignity of going into the bushes when in need?

Moreover, rest stops are a common feature of highways all over the world, especially countries wooing tourists – like Ghana. But here, how many are there?

Mr Amoako-Attah should be commended for his pragmatic, important proposal to remedy this long-standing, embarrassing travel deficiency.

Ghana clearly needs highway rest stops/washrooms and the sooner the better. Therefore, one wishes fervently that the Minister moves speedily to implementation so that we can give him the full applause he deserves.

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