Sierra Leone Ministry of Transport responds to calls for transparency over Waka Fine bus operations

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 February 2024:

Two weeks ago, the Sierra Leone Telegraph published a story in which the then Chairman of the country’s Metro Transport Company (MTC) – Mr. Victor Ako Mengot, called on all partners and stakeholders involved in the setting up and running of the Waka Fine public/private bus transport service, “to publicly clarify their roles and responsibilities,” amidst massive public outcry over the shambolic launching and operation of the bus service in Freetown.

The Ministry of Transport and Aviation, acting as the supervisory government department responsible for the strategic direction of the country’s transportation systems and policy, has now reacted to that story.

Writing in a statement, the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA) said in its defence that; it is “aware of the Sierra Leone Telegraph of 8 February 2024, with the heading ‘Chairman of Freetown Bus Company calls for partners and stakeholders to publicly clarify roles and responsibilities’. The MTA has implemented the Sierra Leone Integrated and Resilient Mobility project strictly according to the government and development partners guidance and the evidence of those are found in Audit Reports with the Ministry of Finance Project Fiduciary Management Unit.

“The MTA would also like to draw attention to the arrangement of the Project structure (ref. Project Appriasal Document – PAD), which has representation of of key transport stakeholders. During the project design phase, because of the complex and fluid nature of public transport system in Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Transport and Aviation brought on board all the stakeholders in the sector.

“The rationale was to tap into their insight in the public transport system in Sierra Leone and ownership of the project. The Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers Union, Poda Poda and Bus Owners Association, Bike Riders Union, Kekeh Riders Association, Passengers Welfare, Indigenous Transport Owners Association, and many others were given the mandate of managing the buses.

“In essence, whilst the buses were procured under the project, they were leased to a private company – the Metro Transport Company, for the provision of public transport services, with each stakeholder having a certain percentage share of the business.

“The company is tasked with the responsibility of managing the buses while the Sierra Leone Public Transport Authority (SLPTA) provides regulatory functions.

“As a ministry we cannot comment on baseless accusations or claims people choose to share on public platforms. We take great exception to such baseless accusations and misinformation.

“The ministry therefore refuses to be distracted from our continued effort that focuses on initiatives transforming urban mobility including the Waka Fine bus operations.

“In addition to our ongoing efforts to inform and educate the public, we remain open, however, to anyone wishing to fully understand how our interventions are moving more people safely and how we and our partners intend to enhance our support to public transport service delivery.”

Responding to the Ministry of Transport’s statement, the now former Chairman of the Metro Transport Company (MTC) – Mr. Victor Ako Mengot, is seeking to clarity his role and involvement with the Waka Fine bus operations, and why he has resigned.

This is what he said to the Sierra Leone Telegraph yesterday: “I am going to put the record straight for one last time.

“In September 2020, I was contracted by Integrated Transport Planning (ITP) UK, who was selected by the World Bank through an open international tender as the Transport Management Consultant for the Sierra Leone Integrated Urban Mobility Project (IRUMP).

“I was the institutional Development consultant with responsibility for reviewing all Transport Legislation (1964 – 2016); assisting with the institutional reform process leading to the establishment of the Sierra Leone Public Transport Authority through an Act of Parliament; developing policies/strategies for empowering Transport operators; and contributing to the development of a business model for private sector management of passenger transport services. My contract was for two years, and I was reporting directly to the UK company (2020-2022)

“On completion of my contract, the Transport stakeholders asked for my support in setting up the Metro Transport Company (MTC)

“MTC was selected as the preferred operator of the Wakafine buses, and the shareholders are the transport operators. This was because they were likely to be disadvantaged by the introduction of high occupancy passenger transport along the IRUMP Bus Corridor

“I am not the CEO of Wakafine, and neither am I shareholder of the company.

“I was appointed Board Chairman by the stakeholders in recognition of my services to the transport operators and to provide technical advice on management and regulatory compliance. This is an unpaid job and I have no voting right at Board meetings

“MTC is managed by experienced transport professionals who are all Sierra Leoneans. The General Manager worked for SLRTC for 15 years as an operations manager. The others managers have worked for international NGOs and other public sector agencies in Sierra Leone.

“The MTC management team was vetted by the Ministry of Transport and the World Bank Project team.

The reason for my resignation 

“When I decide to do a job, I want to give it 100% commitment. I am semi-retired and do work in other parts of Africa. The position of Board Chairman requires someone who is based in Freetown at this embryonic stage of the operations. Regular meetings with various state and non-state actors are a must. I cannot afford to relocate to Freetown whilst doing other assignments in various parts of Africa.

“More recently, I was unable to chair the last board meeting remotely because of the unreliable Internet and power outage. The negotiations between Metro and the interim regulatory body are still ongoing.

“I hope this puts to rest all the falsehood about my contribution to and involvement in the Wakafine Bus Project.”

Signed: Ing. Victor Ako Mengot, Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (UK), and Member of the Sierra Leone Institute of Engineers. 

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