China steps up its investment in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 December 2011:

When president Koroma announced early this year that 2011 is the year of project implementation for his government, many questioned what the government had been doing since it came to power in 2007.

But looking at the plethora of infrastructure projects, especially road rehabilitation and construction, it is easy to see why the government is describing the capital – Freetown, as a “works yard”.

There are several yet to be completed road construction projects, which critics say would need additional funding to be completed. The government has been told by the IMF that it had exceeded its borrowing ceiling in 2010 and must now seek to finance its capital spending programme through taxation.

International bilateral investment is now, more than ever, crucial for president Koroma to be able to achieve some of his infrastructural ambitions, before the general elections taking place next year. The Chinese government has decided to increase its investment in Sierra Leone.

State House report from Freetown says that the historically neglected mountain and peninsular villages of Regent, Bathurst, Charlotte, and Grafton will soon have spanking new roads and continuous supply of hydro-electrification.

Costing an estimated 180 Million Chinese Yen (US$30M), the road construction project is said to be the largest to be undertaken by the Chinese Government in Sierra Leone. The entire project will be completed in 2014.

Both president Koroma and the Chinese ambassador to Sierra Leone – Kuang Weilin, took part in a ‘sod turning’ ceremony, marking the official start of the peninsular – mountain villages project.

Speaking at the ceremony, president Koroma said that this project is part of his ‘Agenda for Change’, which encompasses his government’s policy on energy, road and infrastructural development, agriculture, health and education, as well as promoting good governance and attracting foreign investors to the country.

He said that in just four years, his government has been able to increase the supply of electricity in the country from a mere 5 Mega watts in 2007. Presenting his government’s performance record, he said that; “We are not a government of workshops and consultancies, and ours is a government of tangible and visible development.”

“Now that we are implementing projects, they are lamenting that they had the intention. But we’re a government of action not intentions,” referring to the opposition’s continuous jibe that the government is simply delivering projects they had planned and funding secured, prior to leaving office in 2007.

President Koroma introduces APC S A J Pratt to Chinese Ambassador

“We are now providing leadership, courage and focus, and nothing will distract us from actualizing the Agenda for Change.” He told his audience.

President Koroma praised what he described as the vision of past APC leaders – Siaka Steven, S.A.J. Pratt, whom he said “had the foresight to develop Sierra Leone”.

As has become traditional at such ceremonies, the president once again promised to personally monitor and make unannounced visits to the two projects, as they were not far away from his Hill Station Presidential Lodge.

But critics say that one of the reasons for the unacceptable poor delivery of government projects is the absence of practical leadership and lack of supervision. They point to the badly managed Free Health Care Programme, which president Koroma had personally promised to supervise in 2010. Several road construction projects are suffering as the result of cost and time over-runs.

Critics also say that the highly expensive Bumbuna hydro-electricity project has failed to achieve its objectives, producing less than half of its planned capacity, despite costing in excess of $200 Million.

Chinese Ambassador Kuang Weilin turns sod

The Chinese Ambassador – Kuang Weilin called on their Chinese contractors – China Railway Seventh Group (CRSG), who are also said to be responsible for other high profile road rehabilitation projects – such as the notoriously delayed Wilkinson Road, “to do the job with China speed, quality and efficiency”.

He said that China will be funding more infrastructural development projects in Sierra Leone. But at what cost to Sierra Leone? China’s investments in Africa are known to be driven by an ‘enlightened self-interest’.

China needs Sierra Leone’s mineral resources. Is this a partnership made in heaven?

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