SierraEye: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 December 2023:
Sierra Leone this week announced a landmark agreement with China for the construction of an 8-kilometer bridge connecting Freetown to the Lungi Airport, a project said to be estimated to cost $1.5 billion. While the prospect of improved connectivity between Freetown and Lungi is welcomed, the lack of transparency surrounding the agreement raises critical questions.
One of the primary concerns is the absence of specific details regarding the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Sierra Leone and China. The government must make this document public, shedding light on the terms and conditions of the agreement.
Is the MOU simply for a feasibility study, technical design and costs as the Chief Minister Sengeh suggested in his tweet on 12/1 or full project as the public notice from the Ministry of Information suggests?
Questions linger about the funding – is it a loan, a grant, or a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) arrangement? If it’s a BOT, what are the repayment arrangements, and for how long has Sierra Leone committed to this partnership?
Furthermore, the government should commit to publishing a detailed breakdown of project costs, encompassing construction, financing, and maintenance. An independent oversight body should be established to monitor the project’s progress, ensuring funds are utilized efficiently, and regular public reports should be issued to maintain transparency and build public trust.
The strategic decision to lease the airport to Turkish interests and the bridge to Chinese entities warrants scrutiny from a national security perspective. How does this align with Sierra Leone’s broader security interests?
Concerns about the environmental impact of the bridge construction are paramount. What assessments have been conducted, and what steps will be taken to minimize the project’s environmental footprint?
The Sierra Leone River estuary’s ecosystem must be safeguarded, and clear plans for managing and disposing of construction waste responsibly are imperative. A comprehensive plan to mitigate negative social and environmental impacts is essential for responsible development.
The labour standards applied to the project are of utmost importance. The government should clarify how it intends to protect workers’ rights, prioritize local employment opportunities, and prevent labour exploitation. Ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions is a non-negotiable aspect of responsible infrastructure development.
As Sierra Leone embarks on this significant infrastructure project, the government must address these pressing questions and concerns. Transparency, accountability, and sustainability should be the guiding principles, ensuring that the Freetown-Lungi airport bridge becomes a symbol of progress and prosperity for all Sierra Leoneans. The citizens deserve not just a physical bridge but a bridge to a future built on trust, responsible governance, and shared economic benefits.