By Daniel Kabire
It is still hard to get to terms with the rate at which life and property is being lost on our roads in the recent past. In fact, the accidents have been so many that when you read about one in the news, you may think it’s just a late reporting of the other incident that you are privy to! Many lives and lots of property lost to the gravel! May the Souls of the deceased rest in eternal peace and the injured get a quick and complete recovery.
Of course at this grieving time, our main concern is the direct loss and pain that we may be able to physically ascertain but in principle, the actual loss as a result of these rampant road carnages is far reaching beyond the accident scenes and in some cases, it may cost the victims an entire generation to recover or even dive into a vicious circle of suffering across several generations. This can be evidenced by the look of things in Busesa Village - Iganga district along the Jinja-Malaba highway where over 100 lives were lost in an oil fire in December 2001. The community is still faced with different challenges relating to various hemispheres of life ranging from social to economic due to the large numbers of orphans, widows and poverty lost as a result of the 17-year-old incident.
As usual, several factors have been pointed out as the root causes of the rampant accidents with some commentators blaming the trend on reckless driving, unfit drivers, poor mechanical conditions of the vehicles, poor road design and conditions all of which may hold water. However, whichever the cause may be, the number of accidents on our roads is bound to increase with time given the rate of population growth and the volume of vehicles in relation to the road infrastructural development. This is therefore a clear signal that as a people, we need to look beyond the accident scene and think of solutions that may cushion the Victims and the economy at large from the extremes that could be caused by the current and future accidents.
Kudos to the different agencies of government and the good Samaritans for the timely action and overwhelming support that has been exhibited and also pledged to the victims of the most recent Oil fire in Kyambura, Rubirizi District. It has showed some level of preparedness by the government and also the will to support the Victims in the possible ways. However, the current form and scope of intervention is neither sufficient nor sustainable. For example, the President promised to give a flat compensation of sh5m and sh1m to the beneficiaries of the diseased and those injured respectively. Despite exhibiting care and thoughtfulness, the amount of compensation does not have a systematic way in which it was arrived at and being uniform in nature, it may fail to address the differences in the social economic status of the victims as well as the degree of injury and or level of incapacity for the lucky survivors. Also the impact of the direct government assistance to the victims on the cash flows of the slim government budget and the corruption tendencies that may headline the compensation process can be left for later discussions. Of course, the questions that this triggers in our minds are; Is this sustainable? Is it not prone to abuse? Does it offer an equitable solution? Could it conform to ‘best practice’? But the Golden question could be, what should be the best way of handling such catastrophes? And the Golden answer is…..
Yes, I was so grateful when His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni the President of Uganda pointed out that the owner/ owners of the Oil truck through their insurance Company should compensate the affected people. He further stressed that such a Vehicle must have had Comprehensive insurance so as to be allowed access to Ugandan roads and if the same was not complied with by the boarder authorities, then Police may have a case to answer. Well, without digging into the technicalities of which type of insurance cover would be suitable to pay for such damages caused by a foreign vehicle, I draw conclusion that the President and by extension the government acknowledges the importance of Insurance in supporting victims of accidents through compensation and this prompts me into examining the current situation.
The current Motor Third party Insurance
Part II of the Motor Vehicle Insurance (Third Party Risks) Act 1989 compels all Motor vehicle owners and drivers to have a minimum of Third part insurance for the vehicle and also suggests the punishments that could be available for those who violet the Statute. However, there has been a gap in the implementation of the Law leaving many motorists driving without the insurance and others possessing forged cover sold cheaply by fraudulent individuals in the black market. The other major challenge has been the fact that the Limits of Indemnity per person of Shillings One million for death or bodily injury has become obsolete with time due to inflation over the years making such a compensation unable to provide the necessary support to victims and their beneficiaries in case of an accident. The other issue making it hard for victims to be compensated under the current arrangement is the claim process as set by the different insurance companies since the Law does not expressly guide the claim procedure and documentation required under the act. This has led to a big part of the population drawing conclusion that the insurance does not pay and subsequently avoiding to purchase it for their vehicles.
Worse still, Subsection (2) Article (50) of the statute exempts Government vehicles from acquiring the insurance. Well, it may be understood that at the time of drafting the act, the government fleet might have been too small to cause alarm as well as the drivers of state owned vehicles being careful and respectful of traffic rules. However, the government fleet has grown too big over the years and the conduct of the drivers gone bad as they are fond of driving recklessly, on pavements, assuming right of way and with total disrespect of the basic traffic rules and guidelines causing loss of life and property to other road users with no compensation.
What needs to be done
The current practice as guided by the law seems to be falling short whenever big accidents involving multiple losses of life and property occur. This is partially because the Private insurance companies offering cover to the vehicles limit their Liability to reasonable amounts below the worst case scenarios. It is also not practical enough for government to fully pass on the responsibility of Compensating Accident victims to private companies whose main goal is to make a profit out of their activities and therefore big compensations are an expense worth avoiding.
Government may therefore consider acquiring an Over the Top Insurance program that responds when catastrophic accidents involving loss of more than Five (5) Lives or so and damage to an agreed value of third party property. This could be managed by a consortium on behalf of the government and could offer cover for both private and government owned locomotives. Considering a model of the Agriculture Insurance Consortium for administrative purposes and Subsections 31 to 34 of the Motor Vehicle Insurance (Third Party Risks) Act 1989 in comparison, vehicle owners including government would be compelled to annually subscribe a fee according to the class and usage of their locomotives arrived at after an Actuarial assessment and claims arising also paid in the same spirit. This would not replace Comprehensive insurance arrangements available from private insurers but supplement them and also take care of extreme cases.
The advantages of such an arrangement would be realised by both the citizens who are potential victims and beneficiary to the compensation, vehicle owners and government as a means of replacing the out of treasury payments always made whenever massive accidents occur and for the Insurers, this would help build customer confidence that has always been sought for hence growing the Insurance industry.
The writer is an insurance expert