President Bio abandons Koroma’s plan for a $400 million airport

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 June 2018:

Last week was a busy schedule for Sierra Leone’s head of the National Commission for Privatisation – Mr. Umaru Napoleon Koroma, who visited the Lungi International Airport and the Water Quay seaport in  Freetown, to gain full insight into how they are both being run.

During his elections campaign last March, president Bio promised to scrap the $400 million loan agreement between China and the Koroma government for the construction of a new airport, which effectively would have meant abandoning Lungi airport, despite previous governments having spent over $100 million since 2001 in redevelopment. Lungi airport is here to stay, said Maada Bio.

Last week, president Bio signalled his commitment to make good on its promise, when the chairman of the privatisation commission met respectively with the management of the airport and seaport to discuss strategies aimed at improving  effectiveness and efficiency, as well as streamlining their operations.

Sierra Leone’s economy needs a major boost, and to do so will require massive increase in foreign direct investments estimated at over $500 million.

But investments can only come if the country’s international airport and seaport are operating to international standards.

Last Tuesday 19th June, the Chairman of the National Commission for Privatisation saw at first-hand the ongoing work being done to complete the Ports Expansion project, which is being carried out by the Freetown Terminal Limited (Bollore).

Bollore has invested over US$120 million to construct a new quay and install 8 ultra-modern STS cranes, a 6 megawatts power plant and other facilities that will transform the Freetown Port into a world class shipping facility for the sub-region. The berth expansion project is expected to be completed in September this year.

Mr. Napoleon Koroma inspected other concessioners, including the Nectar Bulk Terminal Limited (NSBT) who are also investing US$4 million to renovate and equip the Bulk and Break Terminal at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay.

He visited the Dangote Cement factory where he gained first-hand knowledge of the intricacies surrounding their operations.

Speaking about the Ports Expansion project, Mr Koroma said: “I believe we are all in agreement that progress has been made and it is my intention to make things better than they were….the president is very clear about his vision….it’s all about delivery and there must be no more business as usual”.

The General Manager of Bollore, Captain Fabigan Kokan, said that over 70% of his workforce are Sierra Leoneans, adding that his company will train over 30 locals on the operations and maintenance of the new equipment at the new quay.

The Sierra Leone Ports Authority is among a list of state enterprises on the first schedule of the National Commission for Privatisation Act of 2002 – to be reformed, restructured and privatised.

Prior to visiting the Freetown Water Quay last Tuesday, the Chairman of the National Commission for Privatisation (NCP), went to Lungi International Airport  to familiarize himself with the operations and management of the airport.

Meeting with the airport Management, Mr. Napoleon Koroma briefed staff about the core principles of president Bio’s New Direction Agenda – disciplined leadership, professionalism and delivery.

These core principles he said, are critical in realizing the president’s vision for a stable economy. “If we are to achieve the President’s manifesto commitments, we must abide by these three core principles in our everyday activities…it will never be business as usual and I expect each and every one of you to remain professional,” he told the airport management.

He said he had chosen Lungi Airport for his maiden visit to parastatals under his Commission’s supervision, because he believes that Lungi Airport remains critical in promoting the country’s economic development.

The NCP Chairman said that he will inform the President about the pressing challenges facing the airport.

The General Manager of the Sierra Leone Airports Authority, Idriss Nabie Fofanah spoke about the progress that has been achieved in improving services at the Airport, as well as the huge challenges facing the airport management, such as electricity supply.

The NCP Chairman, accompanied by the Executive Secretary, Mohamed Alie Sesay and Sector Analyst, Sia Asgil were taken on a tour of the airport facilities, including the passenger lounge, check- in-area, duty free shops, power generator house, fire depot, and the Presidential Lounge.

He also met with the management of the air cargo management – Sky Handling Partners, and promised to have deeper engagement with them regarding their services and the fees they levy.

6 Comments

  1. Mamamah International Airport – a dead-weight loss.

    The highest projected cost of the project is US$ 400 million. The Chinese believe they can do it for US$ 200 million. Therefore, the average cost (real cost) of the project is US$ 300 million.

    Arguments from the international scene range from the effects of the eleven year civil war, that ended over 20 years ago; to an optimistic outlook of investing for the future.

    The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) argue that, “The new airport is an unnecessary burden on the country that is struggling to pull through from the effects of a decade long civil war.

    The Chinese, however, think, “The project should not just be seen as a new airport but as a key pillar of sustainable economic development”.

    Both arguments deserve equal merits from their own perspectives. But what is the way forward?

    A bit of economic history might be able to identify the definite answer to this development problem. The Marshall Plan.

    The Marshall Plan refers to a period intensive reconstruction in Europe immediately after the end of the Second World War in 1947.

    This blueprint, also known as the European Recovery Program (ERP), was a US initiative to assist Europe (loans) in rebuilding their economies after the devastating war. European countries knew there was urgent need to build or maintain air and sea ports and roads; and the Marshall Plan was effected in 1948 – a year after the war.

    So, in terms of Sierra Leone, what have the previous governments in the last two decades (after the war) done to prepare to hit the green light for the Mamamah vision?

    On the domestic front, it’s the pride of the outgone All Peoples Congress (APC) party, – which, with regards to their ten year ‘turnover’, infrastructure development can be highlighted as the area of distinct performance. The former President – Earnest Bai Koroma – had perceived Mamamah International Airport to crown his legacy.

    However, the present Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) whose flagship program of their ‘new direction’ slogan is free and quality education (from primary to secondary level), does not seem positive to carry on with this project, albeit without explaining clearly to the public the motivation for such a standpoint.

    What are the alternatives to a brand new airport of international standards? Is there an anticlimax to infrastructure development in Sierra Leone? Situation too excellent … ?

    The SLPP and APC have duopolised politics in Sierra Leone from the country’s independence in 1961, and there’s always been some level of ego radiating between these two parties. “It’s our turn, and we are going to show them how to run things … and teach them a lesson” type of atmosphere is always created after a change of government. Unfortunately, at times, this expression of ego turns out to violence; as witnessesed in the recent change over of government from APC to SLPP, wherein a lot of APC supporters suffered atrocities from SLPP supporters. The two parties never seem to collude in their development plans.

    For any country to have the capacity to attract foreign investment, in this technological age, the need for a modern airport should not be underestimated.

    But suppose the SLPP felt that another airport just at the backyard of Freetown will merely continue to increase the economic imbalance as depicted by the lopsided nature of the economy in the country. And that, with a decentralized international airport, this will alleviate congestion in the capital, Freetown, and ensure for the wealth of the country to filter outwards to the whole country.

    Most economies in Africa are lopsided; and to a certcertain extent, this has created an atmosphere of tribalism (or reregionalism) and hence, corruption.

    In this scenario, the present SLPP government, led by Julius Maada Bio, might consider relocating the ‘Mamamah idea’ to a centralized position within the country: – say, Massanga International Airport, or Malenga International Airport.

    The former is to support the notion of an outward permeating wealth, as Massanga village is almost the central point in the country.

    And the latter (Malenga village), although a bit westwards from centre, it is surrounded by fairly well developed towns or cities: Yonibana, Lunsar, Makeni and Magburaka. These towns can facilitate airport development in providing immediate hotel facilities for travellers (or tourists) diverging to different directions within the country. This option also has the advantage of the toll road nearby; which can be extended to complement the suitability of the area.

    Lungi airport has served its purpose and it’s time its functions are adapted to navy, army and air force activities. Even if the government can only provide helicopters that can patrol the country’s coastal waters and prevent illicit fishing from foreign countries.

    A bridge across Lungi to Freetown, will not only be too expensive to build, but it will be very costly to maintain. Not to mention the environmental damage, and the loss of natural landscape scenery that such a project would entail.

    In the next five or ten years, people will be talking about the lost opportunity of Mamamah International Airport, or its equivalent.

  2. I attended an international conference, and after self introduction, one issue that one participants who visited Freetown, Sierra Leone, reminded me of, was the backwardness of the Freetown International Airport (FNA).

    That being stated taking a loan of $400 million from the Chinese in a deal not properly discussed and explained to citizens places much credibility doubt.

    Therefore, a proper review be done by the Bio administration to determine the viability of the project. And if any negative impacts on the overall development then the deal be abandoned.

    However, the government should continue working to improve the FNA to match other airports around the world.

  3. Congratulations to President Maada Bio for keeping to one of his key campaign promises. I must first admit that I was a strong supporter of the Mamamah Airport project. I had supported based on the failed and reckless conditions of the Lungi International Airport for well over 60 years and counting.

    My other critical reason for supporting the Mamama project was based on some of the opportunities it was built upon in the event it was properly implemented and managed. For instance vision of a new or extension of Freetown with new and vibrant modern day urban eco friendly technologies much needed housing healthcare facilities educational facilities to name but a few. But more importantly the golden opportunity of dealing with the overall crowding of over population of Freetown.

    That being said; I had asked myself if the cost of a Mamamah Airport project would be a reasonable and relevant investment at a time when Sierra Leone is in dire need of every penny for much needed and urgent infrastructural development?

    My answer still stands as in my critical opinion Mamamah was going to offer a much greater economic and developmental growth in all sectors that would have in my opinion benefited Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans in many respects, less the IMF disastrous economic forecast that leaves one to wonder the reasons for their opposition to the project.

    At any rate; I do respect the decision of the president and his government as they have the mandate to govern inclusively and accordingly in the best interest of Sierra Leone. Let me make myself very clear that I am critically against a “bridge project due to not only the cost but the untold environmental impact to our nation’s damaged environment.

    What President Maada Bio and his government now need is to embrace and embark upon an immediate and urgent eco friendly light rail system from Lungi Airport to Freetown at a reasonable and affordable cost through respectful partnership with a private company or through subcontractors.

    Secondly to immediately and urgently embark upon the the Lungi Port Loko motorway construction; and lastly a look into Lungi via Hastings as it makes much more economic and geographical sense in my honest critical opinion to construct a modernized road with less environmental impact leading to Freetown.

    But I am a strong supporter of light eco friendly technology that will independently support an eco friendly light rail transportation system from Lungi Airport to Freetown and surrounding areas, and hopefully into the provinces in not too distant future.

    In closing I will take this opportunity to congratulate the President and his SLPP government for their new version for our beloved country Sierra Leone. The sea port and airport are a primary source for international trade and international travelling with great returns on investment, if and when both are managed accordingly and revenues accounted for accordingly.

    They should be made user friendly for independent small businesses, as they are the backbone of any economy anywhere in the world. The security of goods and that of the nation is of great importance.

    Lungi Airport and the national sea port have been a laughing matter in Sierra Leone for over 60 years and counting. The IMF and other agencies’ economic interventions in regards to the Mamamah project and that of the Lungi Airport is of little importance, as I respectfully asked where was the IMF all these years when Lungi airport was an international laughing stock of the world?

    I shall rest my case in support of the new direction and critically suggest that the government makes it a documented requirement to have a good percentage of Sierra Leoneans as Board members or legitimate businesses partners in all foreign investment ventures.

    I keep my fingers crossed and hope that the President and his government will live up to their promises of innovation and social developmental growth, for a new and vibrant working Sierra Leone in all sectors.

  4. Whatever Sierra Leone does for development, a bridge between Freetown and Lungi should never be in any development plan. Sierra Leone cannot maintain such a bridge.

    Scraping the Mamama airport or not, just leave the bridge project in fantasy island and provide efficient roads and ferries.

  5. Bravo!! Well done President Bio, for scrapping this deal. I hope previous Govt officials will refund the money chopped from Chinese Company.

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