Gov’t signs MoU with Russia firm to replace rickety school buses

Barbara Asher-Ayisi, signing the MoU on behalf of government

The Ministry of Education has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Russian vehicle manufacturer, GAZ Group, and Neoplan Ghana Limited to supply better-condition and upgraded buses to both private and public schools for used in conveying students, especially children.

According to a Deputy Minister of Education who signed the MoU in Russia on behalf of the government, Barbara Asher-Ayisi, the initiative has the approval of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and is to ensure safety and end the unnecessary accidents suffered by students and schoolchildren being conveyed to and from school.

The Deputy Minister of Education stated: “The Memorandum we signed with GAZ Group is the first step toward a long-term cooperation between the Ministry for Education of the Republic of Ghana and the most successful Russian commercial vehicle manufacturer. We are looking forward to the start of our cooperation to enhance safety of schoolchildren’s transportation.

“Moreover, we highly appreciate the know-how that GAZ Group will share with our local vehicle-building industry. Such cooperation will be based on the economic, technological and cultural exchanges.”

The arrangement which was initiated by the Ghana Russian Business Development Council has seen the Russian government highly subsidise the buses, and each bus will come with a 5-year warranty.

It is also aimed at reviving the vehicle assembling industry by creating employment for highly skilled youth within the automobile industry, as the vehicles will be assembled in Ghana by Neoplan Ghana Limited, the B&FT understands.

On his part, the President of GAZ group – which is the company the Russian government approved to work with Ghana on the upgrade of school buses – Vadim Sorokin said: “We have developed a new lineup of reliable and functional NEXT vehicles, on the basis of which we make the entire range of school buses.

“They allow for upgrading the Russian fleet of buses for children transportation, and have a large export potential.

“We have made the first step toward cooperation with the Ministry for Education of Ghana and have to do so much more: open an aftersales servicing centre, train staff, and study opportunities of setting up an assembly production of GAZ vehicles in Ghana.”

One of the most important feature of the buses to be supplied is that their ignition will not come on if the driver has taken the slightest alcoholic beverage or drink with any alcohol content.  This then ensures the safety of students to be transported irrespective of their age.

The MoU was witnessed by the Managing Director of Neoplan Ghana Limited, George Nasser, and saw the parties agree to develop he supply of school buses together on the basis of GAZelle Next mini-buses, GAZelle Next Cityline frame buses and PAZ buses, and to set up aftersales and warranty servicing for those vehicles in Ghana – to be handled by Neoplan Ghana Limited.

Also, according the MoU, GAZ Group becomes the key strategical partner of the Ministry for Education of Ghana, in the field of school-bus fleet upgrades.

The programme of school bus fleet upgrades in Ghana is included into the public vehicle fleet upgrade project of the government of Ghana.

Under this arrangement, the Ministry for Education will implement the programme’s first stage – which will be replacing over 500 school buses within the next five years.

Information available to B&FT is that the ministry will be seeking the approval of Parliament to make it also compulsory for private schools to replace buses used in their students’ transportation, by guaranteeing for them to receive these buses under hire-purchase arrangements.

GAZ Group is the largest supplier of school buses in the Russian Federation. School buses of the new NEXT generation have great ride-smoothness, excellent resistance at high speed, high informative content, and great steering performance that may be compared with that of a car.

The GAZelle Next Cityline school bus is designed for transportation of 20 children and one accompanying person, and the school bus based on the GAZelle Next panel van has a passenger capacity of 18 seats. PAZ school buses are designed for transporting 22 up to 28 passengers.

Designers, B&FT understands, paid special attention to the safety and comfort of young passengers – with seats installed in the direction of travel and equipped with three-point retractable safety-belts, and having a maximum speed limit of 60 km/h.

A special-purpose device is also fitted in the bus to prevent accidental door-openin, and locks the engine when a door is open.

The passenger compartment is equipped with a rack for schoolbags, and a driver call-button is located on each row of seats.

The vehicles are outfitted with an additional retractable step to facilitate access to and from the vehicle.

Currently, GAZ Group supplies vehicles to over 40 countries across the world and has local promotion, sales and aftersales servicing partners in the five key regions – Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East; and Ghana is expected to be the hub for Western and Central Africa under the new arrangements partnering with Neoplan Ghana Limited.

By Norvan Acquah-Hayford l thebftonline.com l Ghana