My government has spent over $200 million in subsidies to keep lights on in homes and businesses – says President Bio

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 October 2022:

President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone, on Monday delivered a keynote address at an Energy Sector Roundtable conference held in Freetown, aimed at attracting much needed investments for the country’s flagging energy sector.

Since Sierra Leone was declared bankrupt in the 1980s, it has never recovered its post-independence boom in electricity and water supply, as successive governments struggle to meet the growing costs of providing heavily subsidised utility service across the country.

With fewer than 30% of homes in Sierra Leone connected to the national grid and enjoying access to electricity and constant supply of safe, clean drinking water, it is clear to see why the country is classed as one of the poorest nations in the world. And this is one of the biggest challenges facing President Bio who is seeking a second term in office.

Speaking at the energy conference on Monday, the president said: “As a Government, we have signalled that addressing energy poverty in Sierra Leone is a top national priority. We have doubled energy access to 35% in four years and hope to continue this trajectory. We believe that increased investments in electricity infrastructure, generation sources and electricity networks will unlock the massive economic potential of our country, support the modernisation of our economy, especially in the areas of agriculture and manufacturing, and expand human capital development services.”

But this has not come cheap for the government. Subsidising electricity is expensive and takes money away from the delivery of other public service priorities, such as health and education.

“Over the last two years alone – through the COVID-19 pandemic and the current global economic crisis – the Government has paid over $200 million US dollars in subsidies to keep lights on in homes and businesses and make energy affordable for citizens. We must, however, transition to a more financially sustainable model. I ask this Roundtable to address and proffer solutions to making the energy sector commercially viable and attractive to investors,” says President Bio.

Will investors put their money in helping to solve Sierra Leone’s perennial energy crisis?

You can read the full text of his speech below:

Ministers of Government, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, Development Partners, The Private Sector, Friends, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honoured and delighted to welcome you to this Energy Sector Round Table. A hearty welcome to our Development Partners – the Management and Technical Teams of the World Bank Group, the Millennium Challenge Corporation–(MCC), the African Development Bank–(AfDB), the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office–(FCDO), the International Finance Corporation–(IFC), the Japan International Cooperation Agency–(JICA), the United Nations Office for Project Services – (UNOPS, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), USAID and Power Africa.

Thank you for being a valued partner and contributing to Sierra Leone’s sustainable economic development and social progress.  Let me also commend and thank our private sector partners for your socio-economic contributions and the critical role you will continue to play alongside the Government in developing our nation’s energy sector — a special welcome to you all.

I am happy to see all the essential players in the energy sector present here this morning, and I can feel the energy in the room for fruitful deliberations. I value your impactful voices and presence at this Roundtable with the theme “Charting a Path to Sustainable Energy for All”.

Energy is the engine that powers economies. The more energy economies have, the more prosperous their people are. Lack of energy is Africa’s most critical challenge, with the world’s highest energy poverty.

In Sierra Leone, access to electricity remains a challenge in terms of reliability and affordability. Our sustainable economic growth and prosperity depend on solving the crisis of energy. It will require a more significant commitment than ever before, for our present and future depend on it. We must take bold steps, think differently and act with a greater sense of urgency.

We meet again after 18 months in unfamiliar and harsher socio[1]economic circumstances. Global food and energy insecurity have worsened due to the COVID-19 shocks and lingering global economic insecurity due to the Russia-Ukraine crises.

The global economic downturn has hugely impacted Sierra Leone as the rest of the world. We bear the most significant burden of shrinking investment dollars, global supply chain disruptions, unpredictable shortages and price hikes in food and petroleum products. Energy prices are higher now than 18 months ago.

The high and rising energy prices continue to have an adverse impact on other growth sectors of our economy. I am not an economist, but I know that with food and fuel priced in US dollars, a stronger dollar means that these essential commodities will get more expensive.

There is also a greater risk of debt distress for emerging economies, especially as interest payments in dollars and refinancing become more expensive. But as a Government, we are determined to keep our national development priorities on track.

Despite rising global energy prices, we must continue our efforts to increase energy access to communities and productive sectors of our economy in the short, medium and long term. We should also ensure that existing and future energy sources are reliable, efficient, affordable, and sustainable – for our homes, businesses, industries, schools, and hospitals.

I remain optimistic that despite global and local challenges, with close partnership with development partners and the private sector, our Government has made significant strides in the energy sector, as highlighted by the Minister.

As we progress with the Roundtable deliberations, I implore you to address the issues of supply, availability, reliability, affordability, financing, and investment in the energy sector. It is the opportune moment for policymakers, development partners, investors, sector experts, and operators to deliberate openly to address our prevailing challenges in the energy sector.

Let me draw your attention to a few critical discussion points. First, Financing of the Energy Sector. Our financing needs for achieving our energy sector goals are enormous. Access to financing remains a challenge.

Over the last two years alone – through the COVID-19 pandemic and the current global economic crisis – the Government has paid over $200 million US dollars in subsidies to keep lights on in homes and businesses and make energy affordable for citizens. We must, however, transition to a more financially sustainable model.

I ask this Roundtable to address and proffer solutions to making the energy sector commercially viable and attractive to investors. The second is Regional Power Sector Integration. The World Bank has evaluated the pressures of spiralling oil prices and other costs on our economy and proposed a Regional Emergency Solar Power Intervention (RESPITE) Project.

In December 2021, I commissioned the TRANSCO-CLSG Interconnection Line to the Kenema Substation at Tiloma, spurring socio[1]economic development in Bo, Kenema and 21 rural connected communities. We look forward to completing the substations at Kamakiwe, Yiben, and finally, in Linsan, in neighbouring Guinea, where the line will connect to the ongoing Gambia River Basin Development Energy project (OMVG) with Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and the Gambia.

I believe that regional energy connectivity and trade will bring about sustainable socio-economic transformation in Sierra Leone and the ECOWAS region. I encourage this Roundtable to further deliberate on how best Sierra Leone can harness these new cross-border power transmission opportunities within the regional power pooling mechanisms framework.

The third point I want us to consider is the issue of Energy Transition. In line with our global commitments to climate actions, Sierra Leone stands ready to build a greener, more sustainable energy future. We are open to gradually moving away from using heavy fuel oils and other thermal sources and improving access to clean energy sources.

I hope this Roundtable will guide us in mobilising the appropriate financing mechanisms for our clean energy transition aspirations and ways to forge strategic partnerships for clean energy.  Additionally, we must do all possible to support women who suffer the most from relying on solid biomass to cook, with children on their backs, and working so hard to feed their households. I am particularly keen on us developing a program to manufacture clean cooking stoves that are affordable to citizens.

Fourth is the development of the Millennium Challenge Compact following a successful Threshold Programme. On the margins of the just concluded UN General Assembly, I had fruitful discussions with Madam Alice Albright, the CEO of the MCC. I reaffirmed our Government’s commitment to upholding democratic ideals and continuing our credible track record of transparency and good governance.

The Compact will support our efforts to provide affordable and reliable electricity to benefit generations of Sierra Leoneans. The Fifth point to consider is Renewable Energy Mini-grids as an alternative approach to energy access.

Our Government has created the enabling environment for renewable energy mini-grid investment with associated regulation, licensing and tariff procedures. With 80 Mini Grids in operation, Sierra Leone is a leader in mini-grid deployment, and we are proud of this achievement.

We encourage and welcome additional sustainable investments from credible and strategic partners. As we do so, let us be mindful of the delicate balance between minimising cost-reflective tariffs for rural populations while minding the commercial viability of those mini-grids. I expect that this Roundtable will propose innovative ideas for making the Sierra Leone market even more attractive.

The Sixth consideration for this Roundtable is Rural Tariffs. During my tours in rural communities, I am constantly confronted with the issue of high electricity tariffs. I look forward to the pilot Tariff-Buy-Down project implemented by Cross Boundary and funded by GEAPP/Rockefeller Foundation.

I also look forward to new proposals for lowering tariffs, especially for rural electricity consumers.  Seventh is the National Electrification Plan Digital Platform. I am informed that for over a year, the Ministry of Energy has worked with the World Bank to develop a National Electrification Plan Digital Platform that uses an online Geospatial Resource Management Software tool by Village Data Analytics.

I am also informed that the tool will enable energy planners to identify specific populations and areas deficient in energy access. We can craft an integrated strategy for expanding energy access to those populations with data generated and analysed. The Platform will facilitate robust planning and competitive procurement processes essential for delivering sustainable energy solutions.

I am hopeful that this Roundtable will discuss the role of data analytics in developing sustainable and integrated solutions to the challenge of energy poverty.

Finally, we need a coordinated response to reliable and affordable energy access. I believe that structured and coordinated energy access is possible if we deploy a diversity of solutions on a least-cost basis and in line with energy demand. A generous mix of clean energy generation sources; grid expansion and extension; affordable solar home solutions; and the financing of additional mini-grid and off-grid networks in hard-to-reach areas are all possible.

As a Government, we have signalled that addressing energy poverty in Sierra Leone is a top national priority. We have doubled energy access to 35% in four years and hope to continue this trajectory. We believe that increased investments in electricity infrastructure, generation sources and electricity networks will unlock the massive economic potential of our country, support the modernisation of our economy, especially in the areas of agriculture and manufacturing, and expand human capital development services.

We must urgently design the appropriate energy systems to address our energy needs to unlock our nation’s sustainable development potential. The collective actions of all the relevant stakeholders at this Roundtable will help propel us to meeting our energy sector aspirations. We all must do more together!

Together, we will unlock Sierra Leone’s energy sector potential – conventional and renewables – and develop energy mixes that will light up Sierra Leone from the North, South, East and West and power our industries. The task is immense, but the benefits will be rewarding.

I am pleased to officially launch the National Electrification Plan Digital Platform and declare this Energy Sector Roundtable open. Thank you for your kind attention, and I wish you successful deliberations

7 Comments

  1. “With fewer than 30% of homes in Sierra Leone connected to the national grid and enjoying access to electricity and constant supply of safe, …..” “We have doubled energy access to 35% in four years and hope to continue this trajectory.”

    Let’s for a minute inspect and digest the extracted statements convey by the article. As indicated, the current regime took over governance a bit over 4yrs ago. The president is claiming his government have managed to improve access to electricity to 35% of households. Is there any statistics to prove that, prior to 2018, only about 17% households in the entire country have access to electricity?

    Like any nation, the construction of new housing and business infrastructures that requires electricity connections is always ongoing, regardless of the economic situation. So what is consider a baseline metric for electricity improvement in a nation? Is it the number of housing that are connected to the national grid, ignoring the availability of constant power supply to households? Or could it be the actual availability of constant power supply to those households?

    With my residence located at Jui, eastern part of the capital, electricity supply to my house have been problematic and remains the same since the last regime. Other than the slight improvement during the raining season when water levels at the Bumbuna dam is high, i hardly experience any 24hrs electricity supply. As the raining season recedes, power supply to my house during the last few days has gotten worst. So i am not really sure of the propagandist statements being utter by this regime and their buffoonery supporters.

  2. Overall , 35% of access to electricity is not something to trumpeted by a government that promised so much and delivered so little in the Bio /SLPP manifesto promises in the run up the 2017/2018 presidential campaign . 34 promises were made and four years on none of them seemed to have reached the threshold of being tick-off as honored except for few .The repeal of the libel and sedition laws, ask the opposition leaders that were detained for publicly voicing their concerns about the census exercise .The repeal of the death penalty, has now being taken of the hands of our judges and given to the police by their summary shoot first and ask questions later policy. Justice delivered Bio style .Quality free education , still working in progress .This message from Bio is full of hogwash . 35% of the population that now have access to electricity should be out there celebrating thanks to Papa Boi and the rest of the 65% of the population that are still kept in the dark should wait for Bio’s re-election to stand any chance of seeing light at the end of the tunnel .In other words the Bio one directionless government have only managed to increase access to electricity by 5% percent . Even a chameleon will beat Bio in a one to one race to the top .This incremental strides came with a hefty price tag of $200 million dollars which in the present state our country found itself can ill afford. What this government needs to do is to work with our international partners and try and find alternative source of energy of how we can power Sierra Leone. Solar , wind and hydroelectric dams like the Bumbonah waterfalls , that in my opinion deserved to go down in the Guinness book of records as the longest elephant projects that has been in existence since the era of the dinosaurs. During the Stevens era , we were told on completion , it will not only power the whole of tiny Sierra Leone , but our governments will able to sell some of the surpluses electricity to neighboring countries like Guinea, Liberia and the Ivory Coast .Access to electricity is vital to improve education , health , well-being , buiness opportunities and investment in people .Now to some people it might sounds controversial , but can we just imagine if the Bumbonah water falls was located in a country where the political leadership knows the difference between long term investment and short sighted investment for party political purpose .If this waterfalls were located in countries like Kenya, South Africa , or any of the Arab north African countries , sure enough they would have taken advantage of this natural wonder .But because we have a corrupt elite of politicians , there is little chance we will ever take advantage of the God given natural resources we have in our country .

  3. I wants to personally commend the President for such a job well done in providing access to energy supply. However, we still have to work as a nation in ensuring that we achieve sustainable energy as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

  4. “It is not our five senses which know the world outside, nor even the intellect. It is the principle of consciousness that makes awareness of the world be possible “. We do not bring out the old arguments for the acceptance of an inner reality to persuade anyone to drop his faith in the reality of the world without.
    Twenty years ago, no one hardly thought of having a personal mobile phone that he/she can use to communicate conveniently with relatives, friends and so on. One of the affordable means of communication was through an HF radio system. You see people in queues at places waiting to get connected with their loved ones through this means. Similarly, during this era, people hardly thought there will be an era that will bring about renewable energy to our societies. Thank God we are alive to witness the period when all these developments are unfolding.. If truly technology has impact on our social existence, then we need to embrace it.
    Samuel is a graduate in Electronics and Telecommunications, Graduate student of Peace Operations Training Institute -USA among others. Samuel had several years working experiences in both fields of technology and peace keeping operations.
    I want to conclude by saying blessed are the peace makers, for they shall inherit the earth.

  5. I personally believe that so far, president Bio is on the right track to once again re- establish electricity around our nation starting with all the district headquarters and major towns. He will be judged by the end of his second term as was former president Koroma who came to power by promising to transform our country from “the darkest country” and eradicating “Kabba tiger generators” with sustainable electricity supply.
    Late President Kabba stated on his handing over speech that the Bumbuna hydro power project was 95% completed, but based on credible report, former president Earnest Koroma hurriedly commission the hydro electricity for political gains, against advice from experts which has resulted to structural damage and eventually limited power supply. Now we mostly depend on the Ivory Coast hydro electricity for sustainable electricity supply.
    Fortunately, due to the good governance and control of corruption of the new direction government, the MCC program from the USA are now establishing sustainable power supply in Freetown which will replace the APC floating generator ( Karpower ship) from Turkey which was inherited by the SLPP government.
    President “Talk and Do” Bio should stay focused despite the sabotage of destroying transformers and cables by some APC supporters. By 2028, he will not only be remembered as the “Father of our democracy”, but the president that restored our nation as the “Anthen Of West Africa” through the Free Quality Education, and making our country one of most illuminated in our region which will attract international investors and eventually boost our Gross Domestic Products.

  6. The opposition will not see this as a win for Sierra Leone!

    A president that has doubled energy access to 35% in four years is not enough for commendation. The problem with the APC is the fact that they will never give President Bio his dues but will rather look for negatives. They’re evening blaming the SLPP government for the current situation within their party as they do not have a national executive for the 2023 election.

    It is very concerning to a lot of Sierra Leoneans that a party that cannot even put their house in order wants to govern their nation.

  7. We do not know this man as a moral character who speak the truth and will never trust him by his word – SORRY

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