Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
It was reported last week that the Central Region of Ghana is going to ‘ban illegal mining’. One is left with the impression that it is OK to continue with illegal mining in other regions. Personally, I believed that illegal things were already banned.
Can you imagine that ‘illegal mining’ was ‘permitted’? Well, herein lies the truth of the matter – and the source of the problem. We have far too many ‘illegal activities and situations that are permitted by the enforcement agencies’.
In aviation the concept of ‘enforcement’ is critical to the safety that we all enjoy. The low accident rate and excellent reputation of our Aviation Authorities around the world are proof positive that ‘illegal is illegal’ and thus protects the innocent.
What do we mean by ‘illegal’?
Illegal may not be a matter of LAW, it may be described as a matter of REGULATION. In the case of aviation there are ‘Legal Instruments’ that have been passed by parliament to give the GCAA power to enforce the regulations.
When I read a document that starts with: ‘The six-hundred and seventy-eighth act of the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana entitled Ghana Civil Aviation Act 2004: An act to amend and consolidate the law relating to civil aviation and provide for related matters’ I quickly understand that it provides the framework for ‘legal regulation’, which is to be enforced by the regulator.
So, if something is being done that is ‘defined as illegal’ under the act and/or related regulations, there should be no need to ‘ban it’ since it is already ‘illegal’.
But is it really that simple?
I watch with amazement as motorcyclists drive past police officers without wearing helmets. Few officers of the law appear to attempt to uphold the law. Why does the law about wearing a helmet exist? In order to protect the rider. Wearing a helmet does NOT protect the police officer – but the role of the police officer is to ENFORCE the regulation in order to protect the rider. Therefore, failing to uphold the law, is tantamount to jeopardising the life of the rider. Perhaps there is a parallel to our illegal mining statement that we opened with?
It was well publicised that Parliament passed the Road Traffic Regulation, 20I2, LI 2I80, which included banning the use of the mobile phone whilst driving and the Okada operations. For those unfamiliar with the term ‘Okada’ it is the use of a motorcycle as a ‘taxi’. Such operations are remarkably common in Nigeria and feature in many Nigerian movies. However, in Ghana it is clear under LI2180 that it is ‘unlawful for owners of motorcycles to allow their cycles to be used for commercial purposes’ and that ‘Persons who will patronise the services of cycles as commercial transport will pay a fine or be sentenced to a term of imprisonment’.
Interestingly, the Okada is alive and well. In fact you will find ‘Okada stations’ within a stone’s throw of Police stations in many parts of the country, even with the law in place.
In a nation of such diversity as Ghana, it is clear that some laws will take time to implement – or be ignored. However, ‘illegal is banned’ and generally for a good reason – to protect people.
When a motorcyclist rides solo without a helmet, it is their own life they endanger – and society protects them from their ignorance with the law. When a motorcyclist takes a paying passenger in Ghana it is against the law, in order to protect the passenger. Of course, the majority of the ‘tolerated Okada’ operations in Ghana do not have helmets either and tend to take two or three passengers in precarious positions – which makes them ‘double banned’ or ‘illegally illegal’! Yet the ‘enforcement’ is missing – and therefore the law that is supposed to protect the innocent is not applied, which could be seen as ‘the failure to enforce the law equates to the system being guilty of negligence’!
With regards to the Okada, there may be a good argument for such a service in the rural areas of Ghana, (limited to one passenger, wearing a helmet), but not in the cities. This has NOT been taken into account in the current law. Failure to recognise that they have a role in certain aspects of our development, and a blanket ban, may damage the opportunities of certain rural dwellers. The current law prevents an Okada service to a village without a road – preventing a person paying a motorcyclist to take them to hospital along the track. It also takes away the low-cost transport solution for the poorest in the country. However, failure to uphold a blanket law makes those who provide the service to be outside of regulatory oversight – potentially creating a greater danger to the unsuspecting public. It is a tough balance to bring together. I am glad that I do not make the laws, but I do wish that laws were clear cut and applied laws and not subject to ‘regional consideration as to whether they will be upheld’. Perhaps the law makers should try to understand the driving force behind the practices – not just in the cities, but amongst the many poor people in our nation, who are trying to find a solution to their condition.
Laws do not all reflect the reality on the ground, and thus enforcement of them is lacking. The result is that people die. When we turn a blind eye to ‘failure to adhere to the rules and regulations’ we are complicit in the act, and we should share in the blame. However, if a law was passed for ‘rural Okada’ a protection can be put in place to protect the poorest people in the nation. Blanket rulings may actually put more people at risk than we realise.
Regulations are about protecting people. In aviation we say that every regulation has a tombstone. The aviation industry responds rapidly to a trend of incidents and accidents with regulations. Take the ‘Boeing 787 battery situation’: Before the regulator could step-in the commercial organisation had grounded its fleet of aircraft to protect the innocent. The regulator is now working with the commercial organisation in finding a solution to ensure that the aircraft re-enters service safely (in the next few weeks). It is a new area for both the pro-active, development aware industry player and the regulator – they are working together, exploring how to grow and regulate the industry safely. In some cases there are no regulations for new things; or regulations are based on a set of conditions that are no longer relevant; or a trend of safety has proved that regulations can be relaxed, and thus changes are introduced that can benefit the population as a whole.
It is important that industry players work hand-in-hand with regulatory authorities for the growth of the industry, betterment of the population and protection of the innocent. There will always be exceptions, but such exceptions must be documented, accepted and regulatory oversight must be in place and adhered to. This all becomes much easier when the concept of ‘self-regulation’ is applied by the people on the ground…
Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org )