Will cash-strapped motorists in Sierra Leone pay $4.50 a day for the use of a new toll motorway?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 May 2017

Construction work on Sierra Leone’s first toll paying motorway will soon commence.   The initial phase of the 62 km highway is expected to be completed in the next two months.  According to plans drawn up by the Chinese, the new four lane highway will link the capital Freetown – from Wellington, with the northern town of Masiaka. The Freetown – Masiaka toll motorway will be constructed by the Chinese company – China Railway Seventh Group for a whopping US$165 million.

Last year – 3rd March, 2016, parliament of Sierra Leone ratified the $165 million loan for the widening of the existing highway into a four-lane motorway, under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Scheme.

It is expected that the people of Sierra Leone will repay the £165 million loan to the China Railway Seventh Group over a period of 25 years, by charging motorists using the motorway at three respective toll paying stations – Jui, Mile 38, and Masiaka.

Although the construction of the 62 km long motorway is scheduled to take four years to complete, it was reported yesterday, that from July this year, motorists using the Freetown – Masiaka motorway will start paying the toll charges.

The China Railway Seventh Group says that it expects work on the first phase of the 62 km road to be completed by July.

The company is investing US$165 million loaned to the government of Sierra Leone to construct the road, and in return will charge motorists for 25 years so as  to reclaim its investment.

According to the Deputy Minister of Works, Housing and Infrastructure, Babagaleh Barrie, since the construction of the existing Freetown – Masiaka highway in the 1990s, over 4,000 vehicles use the two lane motorway every day (Photo).

The minister says that the construction of this motorway will help the government achieve Pillar 4 of its Agenda for Prosperity: creating jobs, facilitate trade, lead to the expansion of local settlements, and provide easy access to and from the proposed Mamamah Airport (if constructed).

But what is in serious question is whether the toll business model is sustainable. According to analysis done by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, and if figures released by the minister are correct – that about 4,000 motorists use the Freetown-Masiaka highway every day; and the $165 million loan must be paid in 25 years, then the motorway will need to generate minimum income of about £6.6 million a year in charges – or over $18,000 a day.

Every one of those 4,000 motorist using the new toll motorway will have to pay at least $4.50 (Four Dollars and Fifty Cents) – or Le31, 500 (Thirty-One Thousand, Five Hundred Leones) a day, for the next 25 years. But can poor motorists afford this charge?

Average daily income in Sierra Leone is about $1, which is equivalent to about Le7,000 (Seven Thousand Leones).

What is not clear from these figures however, is whether China Railway Seventh Group will charge each passenger $4.50, travelling in every vehicle that will ply the new Freetown – Masiaka toll highway (Photo: Artistic impression of the proposed new toll road)

And if so, the company will stand to make Billions of Dollars in profit, which it will take back to China.

According to reports, the China Railway Seventh Group, in collaboration with the Ministry of Youths, last week trained and commissioned a group of 60 unemployed youths to help carry out a four months nationwide sensitization exercise on the use of the toll highway and the cost to motorists.

2 Comments

  1. I can understand that the average income for most Sierra Leoneans is less than $1 a day. However, that is not the same for people owning vehicles. We cannot continue taking loans to repair roads or enlarge roads every now and then. That is not good in the long run. As it stands currently, to bring our roads to the present standard, the APC Government of President Koroma has incurred close to Two billion Dollars in Loan. When and how are we going to repay such sums plus its interest?

    My only concern is that vehicle owners have been paying Le1000 (One thousand Leones) as Road Tax to the government for every litre of Petrol or diesel they bought. I hope the current government will review that before imposing the new Road tax on the new highway. In any case the drivers will always shift the increase cost to the passengers.

    What about Okadas will they also pay this amount? This is the largest means of transportation right now in the country. It is a menace though.

  2. I’m not sure about the amount of fee charged, but I cannot understand any argument against the public begin to pay for the use of Public goods. Maybe we as a country and an economy should have developed that philosophy of responsible market, a long time ago.

    Sounds like a cliche – but “freedom is not free.”

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