Suspending Mazhandu Buses: The politics, the professionals, and administrative law in perspective
By E. Munshya, LLB, LLM, MBA, M.Div.
In view of the recent bus road accidents, an administrative body entrusted with licensing bus and transport companies, the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA), issued suspension notices to several bus companies for a month and requested that their respective bus drivers undergo refresher driving lessons. RTSA acted after road accidents involving buses as recent as last week when six people died on the spot after a bus overturned. The suspension was to take effect on April 21, 2016, on Mazhandu, Wada Chovu, and one more transporter.
The minister of transport, however, has reversed RTSA’s decision to suspend Mazhandu and its colleagues. The action of the minister brings into focus the role politicians play in running the administrative state. The minister’s action is within his mandate. In our system of government, many administrative bodies, even though run by non-partisan public servants, are nevertheless supervised by politicians. In the case of the RTSA a minister can interfere with the decisions that RTSA takes. The area of law that covers the actions of RTSA and the minister is known as administrative law. Administrative law is the body of law that covers activities of administrative agencies, departments, and various bodies of the Zambian government. An important element in our administrative law is the principle of political input into decisions of administrative agencies. For example, even if some decisions can be taken by immigration officers, a minister responsible for immigration could on appeal reverse or vary a decision taken by an officer. The same applies to actions of the Road Transport and Safety Agency. Political interference has an important undercurrent to it: the will and mood of the people. The people through their political representatives and direct popular action reserve the power to direct activities of administrative agencies. Administrative agencies will only be effective to the extent that the people allow them to be. Our administrative system can be broadly divided into two: the professional level and the political level. The professional level implements the law and enforces the law, the political level takes into account broader issues of public interest to decide whether to uphold professional decisions or not. Professionally, RTSA suspended Mazhandu, but politically, a minister has cancelled the suspension. In these circumstances, it is the people who should now come in and make their opinions known about what is happening to their transport industry.
Interesting, after the minister cancelled RTSA’s decision to suspend Mazhandu, there has been little public outcry. It does appear like Zambians are quite indifferent and ambivalent to the carnage happening on their roads. We have given ourselves to fatalism and somehow feel like there is nothing that can be done about carnage on our roads. Or, may be the only action we seem to be taking is prayer against the devil who is responsible for the deaths on the road. If the devil is causing these accidents on the roads, then surely he is using speeding bus operators since over-speeding does seem to be the common theme among these accidents. In as much as we are praying and binding the spirits of witchcraft and demons of accidents, there is something we the people must do: we must say no to ridiculous over-speeding that is responsible for these accidents and deaths. We must support RTSA’s decision to suspend these bus operators so that the operators can take a little more care in their operations.
While it is true that accidents can and do happen, it is important for us to acknowledge that accidents are also caused by people’s direct actions and inactions. People do cause accidents. One or two accidents could excusable for human error. But when the whole transport industry resigns itself to a fatalism that excuses human action, we are on a slippery slope that would be difficult to reverse. Zambian bus operators must drive at safe speeds. Safe driving will help keep the demon of accidents at bay. It is inexcusable that we should be losing so many people.
RTSA’s suspension of Mazhandu was reasonable. A month would hurt Mazhandu financially, but it will be significant enough for the company to realise that it must keep its vehicles in good repair and its drivers must take good care when on the road. A bus is not an airplane. It should not be flying at ridiculous speeds.
The honourable minister did what he did because he knows there will be no political backlash from the people even if he interfered in RTSA’s decision. It is time for the people of Zambia to be outraged at what is happening on their roads. It is not normal for buses to be killing so many people.
We need to appeal to our drivers to drive at normal speeds all the time. There is no point in driving too fast only to die along the way. Better arrive alive an hour later than arrive dead on time. What good is speed if it will only lead to death? While death is indeed inevitable and all of us will have to die some day, it is not right to bring upon ourselves unnecessary deaths due to something we can control: speed. To those of us that are praying against the carnage on Zambian roads, let us also hold RTSA and the companies directly responsible for what is happening. We could also tell the minister that what he has done in interfering with RTSA’s decision is not supported by the people: the ultimate supervisors of all administrative action.
Suggested citation: Munshya, E. (2016). Suspending Mazhandu Buses: The politics, the professionals, and administrative law in perspective. Elias Munshya Blog (www.eliasmunshya.org) (May 1, 2016)