Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 August 2019:
China is sending almost 7,000 tons of food aid to Sierra Leone to help cushion the effects of the growing hardship facing millions of Sierra Leoneans, as the government struggles to manage the economic downturn.
Millions of people, especially children are at risk of severe malnutrition as food prices continue to rise.
Speaking to president Bio at State House yesterday, the new Chinese ambassador to Sierra Leone – Hu Zhangliang, said that the first two consignments of 2,000 tons of food aid has arrived in Freetown and are being delivered.
But there has been no information from the government as to how this large consignment of food aid from China is being distributed and where.
Another 1,500 tons of food support will arrive in the next few days, and 3,400 tons arriving soon, said the ambassador, who according to State House report was in State House to discuss bilateral relations and development projects with President Julius Maada Bio.
“I extend warmest greetings from His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, who is very much impressed with your presidency, particularly in areas of territorial integrity, sovereignty and security, diplomacy and development,” the Ambassador said.
The ambassador spoke to the president about the feasibility studies that is being conducted for the rehabilitation of Wilberforce Military Barracks, which houses the Hockey Pitch and 34 Military Hospital in Freetown, as well as the construction of the Foreign Service Academy. He said that the studies have been completed and contract tendering process is underway.
China is also providing Sierra Leone with a loan (figure not known), for the implementation of phase two of the rolling out of fibre optics cable across the country to improve access to the communications superhighway.
“The Chinese government has also made special arrangements for the loan application for the Optical Fibre Network phase two project and we have already approved the loan application. Once Ministry of Finance is done with the loan deal, the work will commence within three weeks,” he said.
The Chinese government will also help develop the country’s international Lungi Airport. In particular, China will modernise the airport’s VIP lounge, which recently was the subject of much fracas between the opposition APC and the government, after former president Koroma was denied access to the lounge.
“In terms of improving the capability of receiving state guests, my government is considering to help your government set up a VIP convoy with bikes, cars and support cars. And I believe that all of these will be delivered by February 2020. We are also looking at the rehabilitation of the VIP Lounge at the Lungi International Airport,” he said.
The Chinese Ambassador also said that as a way of improving the human capital development, which is the flagship program of the New Direction government, Chinese universities will accept 100 new students from Sierra Leone; more than 30 military officers to study in China; as well as offer over 700 Chinese short courses by end of the year.
President Bio said that he is happy to receive the new Chinese Ambassador to discuss issues relating to the two countries’ current and future projects.
“I am happy with the development of ongoing projects, the fibre optic extension which is visible, the food aid, VVIP Convoy, the rehabilitation of the Wilberforce Military Barracks, and improving on the number of Sierra Leonean students. We think this falls in line with the government’s human capital development agenda. As true friends we will also work together,” President Bio said.
But there was no mention of, or discussion about the proposed $2 Billon Lungi Bridge across Lungi Airport to mainland Freetown, which was launched by president Bio a few months ago.
So far there has been no take up of the president’s request for tenders from potential investors, possibly due to low return on investment forecast as well as political risks.
Critics of the government say that the government should be focusing on meeting the most basic of needs of the people, such as improving the nation’s healthcare, improving access to clean drinking water and electricity, low-cost housing, investments in key sectors to create jobs, as well as fixing the broken economy.
Sierra Leone has cancelled its mining agreement with the Chinese iron ore mining company – Shandong Minerals Ltd, because of serious breaches by the company.
Iron ore was Sierra Leone’s largest single export revenue earner. But production slumped in 2015 when global prices of minerals fell. The country was also hit by Ebola. Sierra Leone’s economy is yet to recover from those double shocks.
With China’s economy facing huge challenges and possible slowdown, due to its trade war with America, there is likely to be a freeze in China’s investment in new largescale infrastructure projects in Africa.
Sierra Leone’s ministry of mines is currently reviewing all mining contracts to ensure that their terms are favourable to the people of Sierra Leone.
The country is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties and taxes from mining companies – monies that could be spent by the government in tackling poverty and creating jobs.