A second international airport in Sierra Leone is no longer a priority for President Koroma 

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 November 2015

Roads in BoThe debate as to whether Sierra Leone needs a second international airport, amidst growing poverty and lack of investment in public services and infrastructure, such as health, education, access to clean water and electricity, low-cost housing, and safe trunk roads, has intensified in the last few days. (Photo: A trunk road leading to Bo in the south).

But government ministers and officials have failed to make a strong business case, justifying the need to borrow about $400 million from the Chinese to build the new airport in the north of the country.

Those arguing for the new airport, including the country’s foreign minister Samura Kamara,  say that the existing international airport at Lungi, located in the northern district of Port Loko, is old and too small to cope with the growing economic needs of the country.

Last week, the foreign minister Samura Kamara told Awoko newspaper reporters in Freetown that, the government wants to construct the new airport because of the constraints passengers face to get to the existing Lungi international airport, and that if there is any problem, then Sierra Leoneans will need to travel to Guinea or Liberia to board flight, because there is no other airport in the country.

“I am optimistic that this project will succeed. And it’s just a matter of time, we will kick-start the project, as it is one of the biggest projects that this government wants to undertake to bring more economic benefits to the country, ” the foreign minister told reporters.

But President Koroma has spoken: ‘My government will invest in developing the existing airport’. And that’s final – end of debate, hopefully for another twenty years.

Independent analysts and many citizens arguing against the construction of a new airport at this time, say that notwithstanding the exorbitant cost of constructing another international airport, the existing Lungi airport is not suffering from the lack of capacity, and that its full potential is yet to be realised.

New look Lungi International Airport 1What the country needs – they argue, is for the expansion and modernization of Lungi international airport to continue and professional management put in place, without political interference.

They also say that the country needs private investors with a clear and forward looking vision, who will purchase and run at least three modern and seaworthy ferries across Lungi to Freetown. (Photo: Recently refurbished Lungi airport).

The option of constructing a bridge across Lungi to mainland Freetown has also been put forward by those opposed to the new, costly airport project. The road networks to and from Lungi airport need to be modernised to provide easy and faster access to other provincial towns and cities.

The problem with the existing Lungi airport, is that successive governments have failed to manage it properly, due to incompetence and corruption.

Lungi international airport should be developed through public -private partnership that enables private investors to offer first class services and modern facilities in an expanded terminal building.

Lungi Airport 2014Do all of these, protagonists say, and you would have solved the problems of the existing Lungi airport, without spending a fraction of the proposed $400 million for a new airport at Mamamah.

Will the government listen to this argument, or are the president and his ministers being dragged along by the Chinese, who are quite happy to throw cash credits at Sierra Leone to suit their own economic and political objectives? (Photo: Recently refurbished Lungi airport funded through the World Bank).

In the absence of a convincing business case to support the argument for a new international airport, it seems president Koroma has listened not only to the advice of the IMF and the Word Bank, but to the voices of citizens.

President Koroma has quite rightly backed down from this unsound investment proposition.  A second international airport is not a priority for his government.

New Look Lungi International Airport 4Writing personally last week in the Wall Street Journal, president Koroma made it clear that he is committed to developing the existing airport at Lungi, and made no mention of the proposed second international airport as one of his priorities.

President Koroma said: “We must build better roads, improve our airport and develop our port. We must also provide better access to electricity and power generation.” (Photo: Lungi airport does not lack capacity).

Last week, the Sierra Leone Telegraph pointed out that president Koroma does not have a plan for the delivery of his relaunched Agenda for Prosperity.

In his Wall Street Journal article published three days ago, titled ‘A Post-Ebola Plan for Sierra Leone’ president Koroma has put to bed the debate about a second international airport for Sierra Leone.

Effectively, the Mamama Airport Project is dead – well at least for now until Sierra Leone has successfully addressed its health, education, water, electricity, housing, and other basic human rights provisions.

President Koroma and his agenda for prosperityThis is what the president wrote in his own words:

Earlier this month, Sierra Leone was finally declared free of Ebola. The celebrations in Freetown and across the country were jubilant, but our victory was bittersweet. So many of our brothers and sisters lost their lives fighting this evil virus. Families were broken. Children were orphaned. Our communities were plagued by fear and the hopelessness that the situation may never improve.

Today, our understanding of what is needed for our country to recover is clearer than ever. The devastation caused by Ebola was symptomatic of wider problems. My government is not only focusing on rebuilding Sierra Leone but also on pre-empting future disasters. We are confident we will come back stronger than ever.

 Before the outbreak, our nation was on the verge of its greatest economic breakthrough. We were in the middle of significant infrastructure development. We were being hailed for sustaining our peace, strengthening our economic and structural reforms, the freedom of our press, and bringing more youths and women into high-level employment. The Ebola outbreak halted progress in many of these areas.

The past 18 months have taught us many hard lessons. We have learned that our public services and infrastructure require a complete overhaul. The outbreak put a severe strain on our public services. Our health service was forced to neglect other diseases, such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, school closures and quarantine measures deprived our children of their education. Teen pregnancies and sexual violence increased as girls fell victim to abuses from which they would otherwise have been protected. Basic public services cannot be expendable during times of crisis.

Sierra Leone’s infrastructure challenges predate Ebola, but inconsistent access to electricity, information and communications technology, and water and sanitation, exacerbated the problem. Poor roads and limited forms of transportation thwarted a more robust response to the disease.

We also learned that our political systems and community organizations need to collaborate better. Public scepticism of government hindered the national response early on as warnings, guidance and advice went unheeded. My government has renewed its commitment to good governance and reforming its institutions so that people might trust their political system and their representatives once again.

Underpinning everything is economic reform. Over the past 18 months our economy has battled two shocks: the Ebola epidemic and the collapse of iron ore prices. We must energetically pursue economic diversification so that we are less dependent on minerals, and we must review how we manage our mineral wealth.

We also need to encourage our countrymen to pursue sustainable, local business opportunities to develop a healthy private sector and not rely so heavily on foreign aid.

The fear of Ebola understandably discouraged foreign investment, but with a renewed commitment to reform and sustained investment in infrastructure and public services, we will capitalize on our natural resources for the prosperity of the country and the benefit of investors.

Our future success also depends on how we work with the international community. Enhanced regional cooperation with our neighbours in Guinea, Ivory Coast and Liberia will be essential.

Support from international organizations and donor nations will be equally important. But this also necessitates change on their part. Ebola not only highlighted weaknesses in West African nations but also in the World Health Organization, the United Nations, aid agencies and other national governments.

The crisis must serve as a wake-up call that reform of the WHO, whose bloated bureaucracy cost many lives, is long overdue. Similarly, a change to the outdated composition of the U.N. Security Council, on which no African nation is represented, is essential.

With these challenges in mind, I have an ambitious six-point plan for a better Sierra Leone:

  • Instigate governance and system reform. Ebola caused socio-economic devastation, but the systems developed under this pressure serve as powerful examples of how to improve. These changes will stamp out corruption and encourage transparency for sustainable, Sierra Leonean-led development.
  • Promote social cohesion, education and community mobilization. We need to develop programs and awareness campaigns that reinforce the reforms, working toward gaining the trust of the Sierra Leone people, increasing the legitimacy of government and harnessing the untapped human capital that will be a major safeguard against future crisis. We must therefore improve access to education, develop school food programs and reduce overcrowding in schools.
  • Develop Sierra Leone’s private economy. We must nurture the growth of a healthy private sector by investing in skills, making support available to small- and medium-size enterprises, improving access to financial services, encouraging business that isn’t dependent on aid financing and supplies the local market, so that it can be sustainable and grow.
  • Drive economic diversification. We must encourage the growth of industries other than mining, such as agriculture, so the economy is less vulnerable to external shocks.
  • Invest in national infrastructure. We must build better roads, improve our airport and develop our port. We must also provide better access to electricity and power generation.
  • Encourage foreign investment. We need to communicate to the international community that Sierra Leone is open for business and end the stigma attached to Ebola while mapping investment opportunities and actively promoting these to potential investors.

I am immensely proud of the resilience of my country. We have not only survived a decade-long civil war but have defeated one of the worst public-health crises the modern world has seen. The strength of the Sierra Leonean people should compel faith from the international community that we are ready, willing and able to seize the opportunities that have emerged from the devastation of Ebola.

You can read president Koroma’s Wall Street Journal article here:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-post-ebola-plan-for-sierra-leone-1448571965

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Also, why don’t they just expand the other airports. We have other smaller airports in salone. Instead of constructing a new airport, improve and work on the ones that are already there.

    Change them from just business to both international and domestic uses.

  2. Thank goodness sense has finally prevailed. The real joke for me about this sudden urgency to spend $400 million on a new airport is the sad fact that we don’t even have an airline of our own.

    In the light of all the pressing needs of the country at this point of our history (I was going to say ‘development’, but I thought better of it and for obvious reasons settled for ‘history’), the entire airport shenanigan could have been funny if the logic of it wasn’t pathetic and disgraceful.

    I am not even sure $400 million will be enough to deliver a decent modern airport with all the necessary supporting infrastructure. This to include a decent and reliable electricity supply, good water and sanitation in the environs, reliable technology, feeder roads, etc.

    After all, what’s the point of a modern airport if it is blighted with constant power cuts or it takes one another 7 to 8 hours, after a seven hour flight form London, galloping your way into town or using one of those panpan things (which I have had to use as Earnest Koroma and his hangers-on were travelling – never again will I be that suicidal!).

    It makes you wonder how informed the $400 million or so estimate was. One can only hope that the whole thing was not just a ploy for the government to have more free cash from China that they can filter away without any accountability. All the more reason why I totally agree with the comments of Santhkie Sorie in one of the earlier articles/comments – that all major capital projects and indeed some revenue projects involving significant outlays, must be pre-empted by detailed cost benefit analysis underpinned by properly costed and verified business case.

    The business case, which must provide incontrovertible justification for the project, must in turn be complete with sensible investment appraisals together with clear and understandable basis for their prioritization (given the almost limitless challenges the country faces against the backdrop of very limited resources).

    Hopefully such detailed documentation will provide the all-important evidence that every single Leone spent by the government on our behalf delivers value for money for the entire country and not just the select few.

    Better still, all projections and calculations together with accompanying procurement strategies must be available to us – Joe Public, for inspection. This is not rocket science – it is simple, basic best practice in this day and age and a basic prerequisite for fiscal transparency which, I note, our Minister of Finance so freely invoked in his letter to the Managing Director of the IMF when he was seeking a “waiver of nonobservance of performance criteria for the breach of the ceiling” on borrowing levels, among other requests. Transparency cannot and must not be selective!

    As an aside it most definitely makes sense at some point to have a modern and well kitted out airport, I suppose complete with our own airline. But as the bible says (don’t know what chapter or verse so don’t quote me!) there is a time for every purpose. And that time is not now!

    It probably will be when we would have managed our economy and our wealth so very well that even seeming “prestige projects” will be justified even if to announce our arrival on the big stage. But not when we remain largely at the bottom of the pile in all human development index – not when people are dying of simple ailments, lack of affordable food, decent housing (none of that Kroo Bay and similar killers), lack of electricity, decent water supply, decent schools, reasonably decent roads, etc – where do I stop for God sake after 50 years of independence? (internet? Perhaps!) – I give up.

    But exactly what have other countries done? Malaysia is a case in point. Once the wealth rolled in – thanks to good management of their economy and resources, they embarked on prestige projects including erecting the Petronas Tower (at some point one of the tallest, if not the tallest building, in the world), a new superb international airport, with the old one relegated to serve internal flights only.

    Prestige project? Maybe but who cares! They were affordable after the basics had been sorted. That’s a lesson. Let’s get our priorities right at all times and not just on this airport saga!

  3. Wow! Well put, sir…Sierra Leone will come back. However, good leadership is needed and accountability is a must. The new leader of Nigeria is showing the world how to handle past leadership who failed their people.

    Sierra Leone must unite, and the so called politicians should be crushed … And for those who change parties just to gain wealth, crush them too!!

    Crushed, meaning – pushed out of the country’s political parties (banned from politics under the new constitution).

    Sometimes democracy has to take hard core measures, because the nation and it’s people are more important than political parties. But this will take time, and the nation must be united.

  4. I think the airport project was a way for this government to have access to a lot of cash before the next election, and also to give this administration one last opportunity to steal big money before heading to the exit door.

    President Koroma knows his 3rd term bid is dead. Even though he’s started wearing those Madiba style shirts, he’ll never be Mandela. The people are fed up with him and his thieving administration. They were only lying to the people about a new airport and that money would have disappeared into thin air.

    Ernest Koroma is on track to leave the people worse off than the way he found them. The healthcare system is in shambles. Basic goods are sold at inflated prices. Pregnant women are dying needlessly. Unemployment is at record high.

    The people are definitely not better off with EBK. They should not be asked to take on any new debt like this. Where are the projections as to how long it would take to repay this debt? How much revenue would be generated annually to justify incurring this kind of debt? How much tourism can you attract without adequate running water, electricity, and other basic amenities?

    The IMF and World Bank were very correct to advise against this kind of project. It’s amazing that this administration tried to fool the people into believing they wanted to build a world class airport when they can’t even provide basic public toilets.

    Shame on Ernest Bai Koroma and his thieving cabal for trying to leave the people with debt it would take generations to repay.

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