Dr Jonathan Tengbe
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 March 2016
My vision for Sierra Leone as an aspiring presidential candidate is to improve the standard of living of all Sierra Leoneans, through better infrastructure planning and a coherent national development programme.
I am a German trained PhD qualified specialist in infrastructure planning, and an highway construction expert, currently working with the government of Qatar.
In 1995 to 1998, I contributed immensely to the planning of the 11,000km of road network in Sierra Leone, in the capacity of Chief Engineer Highway Planning.
I also worked as a contract management specialist under the European Commission, during the construction of the Freetown – Conakry Highway in 2012; the Masiaka to Bo Highway also in 2012; and the Kenema to Pendembu Highway in 2013.
Infrastructure in the context of national development can be defined as the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function.
It is an important and all-encompassing concept for judging a country’s development. The term typically refers to the technical structures that support a society, such as roads, bridges, water supply, sewers, power supply, telecommunications, and so forth.
Viewed functionally, infrastructure facilitates the production of goods and services, and also the distribution of finished products to markets, as well as basic social services such as schools and hospitals; for example, roads enable the transport of raw materials to a factory or agricultural products to market centres.
The road network of Sierra Leone was in its worst state of disrepair ever in the history of the country, before the SLPP government took over power in 1996 (after the rebel war).
Based on the above definitions, the road network was not functional for economic growth and delivery of social services.
In their effort to support economic growth, the SLPP government focused on upgrading the strategic national trunk roads from Freetown to Kenema; and from Masiaka to Makeni, interconnecting the major provincial towns with the capital.
Funding was also secured to extend the network from Kenema to Koindu in the East, Kabala in the North and Pujehun in the South.
Moreover, feeder roads development was undertaken to link chiefdom towns with district towns, and the road fund was “ring fenced” to maintain the existing national road network.
When the APC took over power in 2007, instead of continuing the network development to maintain micro and macroeconomic stability, they decided to reverse the priorities that had been put in place by the SLPP government and the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA).
They diverted attention and the country’s meagre resources to ‘populist’ projects, which was used to showcase the “De Pa de Woke” mantra and use this as a key campaign strategy at the 2012 elections.
And here are the true realities of the APC’s so called infrastructural development strategy:
• Hasty removal of the management of the road fund from the SLRA management team, and using it as a tool to demoralize the highly valued technical staff
• Disproportionate road construction investment in the already heavily congested Freetown, without seeking alternative traffic management solutions. Today, despite the Wilkinson Road dual carriageway, traffic congestion from the west to east of the city still remains a challenge, with almost a 5-hour return journey time (almost 80% of the time required from Freetown to European cities). A situation that is gradually stifling the economic growth of the country.
• Non prioritization of investment in the road network of the provincial and district towns, which has resulted in uncompleted works due to lack of funding, and are currently hazardous to road users. Lack of secured funding for their completion will be a national liability for a long period of time.
• The uncoordinated and dysfunctional road construction works currently in progress, because the Road Administration Organisation is demoralized.
• Diverting investment away from other infrastructure facilities such as water supply, sewerage, waste collection and treatment, that are also of national importance. This led to high prevalence of water borne diseases as evident in the cholera outbreak in the country and recently the scourge of the Ebola virus.
These activities of the APC have resulted in stripping the Road Management Organisation in the country – the SLRA, of the powers vested by the Act of Parliament, through political interference.
The road fund that was established in 1992 to support road network maintenance and administration, is no more available for such purposes.
Hence the country has now inherited an additional ten years of maintenance backlog, in addition to the ten year maintenance backlog that resulted from the rebel war, which will keep adding up if APC is allowed to stay in power and continue their current policy.
Comparatively, all SLPP projects along the main trunk roads to the provincial centres at the time of handover to APC were either at completion or near completion.
Hence, we now enjoy a smooth ride and journey time reliability from Freetown to Kenema, if you are travelling to the South East; and from Freetown to Makeni, if you are travelling to the north.
Moreover, during the SLPP regime, maintenance operations were in progress in all the twelve SLRA district offices, which has not been the case for a while, due to non disbursement of road funds to the SLRA.
The roads are now riddled with potholes right across the country, including all the major towns, which is a clear manifestation of the misplaced priorities of this APC government.
As an infrastructure Specialist, I will reverse the damage that APC has done to our key national infrastructure, and improve the standard of living of our people through job creation, cost of living adjustment, ease of doing business – thus attracting foreign direct investments into the country.
My policy will aim at restoring dignity to the SLRA, by allowing our road administrators to use their engineering expertise to prioritize investment in a functional national road network that will support economic growth, and deliver basic social services to all Sierra Leoneans across the country.
Where there are shortfalls in the financing of road infrastructure projects, I will provide favourable microeconomic platform to capitalize on foreign investment vehicles, such as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs), Design Build Finance and Operate (DBFO), renegotiating existing mining agreements to ensure new investment into infrastructure development, and toll roads where possible.
I will secure finance for road projects that are functional, sustainable, support economic growth and deliver basic social services to our people.
What Sierra Leone needs is an infrastructure development specialist as president of Sierra Leone, to rebuild the nation that has been damaged by political misrule, rebel war, and recently a very severe health epidemic called Ebola.