Chinese Buses on the brink
E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Ghanadot
A Daily Graphic feature of September 2, 2009
claimed that 400 Metro Mass Transit (MMT) buses “were down and
The Managing Director of the (MMT), Mr. Henk Visschers, instead
of hiding his face somewhere, claimed same day that not all the
“400 MMT buses, delivered from China to the Ministry of Roads
and Transport in 2006, have been grounded.”
Mr Visschers, as if doing the country a favor, has corrected the
number of the broken down buses given by the Daily Graphic to
344 on a talk radio show.
The problem, according to Mr. Viscchers, was due to
“unavailability of spare parts and trained mechanics to repair
the defective buses.” The solution the management of MMT offered
was “to dispose the buses to individuals and interested
organization” so as to use the proceeds to procure more buses.
Now how do I have the feeling that there is something wrong with
the reasoning behind the solution proposed? And how do we assure
ourselves that the same fate will not befall the new buses to be
procured with proceeds from the sale?
Central to the dispute for the breakdown was this impression;
that it was the fault of the Chinese for not supplying
maintenance manual in English.
The question to ask is who placed the order or took delivery of
the buses? And were requirements stipulated for the acquisition
of the buses; or shall we say the buses on delivery were
accepted with the usual “gift from the gods” attitude,
therefore, no questions asked?
But, I suspect the Chinese would have nothing to worry about. If
those buses were gifts why would anyone bother “to look a gift
horse in the mouth” anyway?
And, even if purchased by our hard earned Ghanaian money, the
Chinese would still have a cover: The same buses are in use in
China. And if they are in use in Ghana then certainly they would
be in use elsewhere, apart from China, with a lot of mileage
chalked on them. The Chinese must know by now how to guard their
reputation in the global market with durable manufactured
However, for 344 out of 400 buses to break down in Ghana sounds
like someone is pointing the finger at us. We are the ones with
the problem of a maintenance free culture. Certainly, within
this cultural ambience, these buses are capable of breaking down
after two years in use and care.
A good 86% of the 400 buses has been grounded. The troubling
part is Mr Visschers is not out there telling the public how
safe the remaining 14% is, with technicians who cannot read
Instead, we are told that MMT took delivery of the buses with
maintenance manuals in Chinese two years ago and has since been
running them without the English version.
And that “it was somewhere in September last year or March this
year, when the Chinese came down they realized there were some
engineering application problems,” Mr Visschers explained.
September to March the following year is a good six months
apart. So, in addition to not having manuals in English, neither
Mr Visschers nor his secretary had a diary to keep track of the
exact date of visit by the Chinese dignitaries! Is it any wonder
then that he found nothing odd with running these buses for two
years with maintenance manuals his technicians could not read?
At this point, I begin to lose faith in the Ghanaian’s
administrative skills. Then just at that point, I hear on the
radio a man describing himself as the secretary of a group of
roadside repair shops whose name has escaped me.
What this secretary said about repairs for the MMT grounded
buses brought some level of intelligence and a dose of
patriotism to the whole matter. And the effect was heart
This secretary debunked the idea of a specialty bus made only
for climes like China that some talking heads had offered
anytime complicated machineries broke down. In the late 60s it
was the Russian “snow” tractors.
To the credit of this secretary, he maintained categorically
that any automobile that was manufactured for use anywhere in
the world ought to and should be able to operate in Ghana.
Of course, I understood his intent. He was not referring to the
yellow Lamborghini (sport car, low profile with the bottom of
the car some three inches off the ground) that I saw parked in
front of a hotel in Accra this last Saturday; a car with limited
mobility in Ghana but only brought in for bragging rights. He
was referring to sensible utility vehicles like the Chinese
buses that had broken down.
He also went ahead and offered a challenge to the government and
the management of MMT. He said “give us one of those buses each
– one to Kumasi Magazine and another to Abosokai (and some other
name he mentioned that has escaped my mind) and see if we can’t
fix it; manual or no manual.”
Knowing the reputation of the folks at Magazine and the Abosokai
shops, there would be some out there who never sat in a
classroom or grade one, ever spoke Chinese in their entire
lives, or read English; and more to the point have never seen
the innards of these buses before they broke down but still
could fix them.
The challenge is whether we are prepared to give the Ghanaian
ingenuity a chance and a trial. Three out of 344 idle buses will
not cause any additional transportation hang ups in our system
that is not there already.
It is worth the trial. Give them the chance, I say.
www.ghanadot.com, Washington, DC, September 03, 2009
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