Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 December 2020:
The Parliament of Sierra Leone yesterday, Wednesday 16th December 2020, debated and ratified the Lungi Freetown International Airport expansion project agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the Russian owned Summa Airports (SL) Limited.
The aim of the project is to expand Lungi airport to include a new and larger terminal, as well as relaying of the runway to accommodate larger and more airlines, in keeping with international standards.
The government of Sierra Leone is projecting a massive increase in passenger arrivals at Lungi airport to over one million a year, which the current capacity at the airport cannot accommodate.
But the reality is that currently and in the last few decades, Lungi airport has been operating well below capacity, making justification of any expensive expansion extremely difficult.
Critics of the government’s plans say that president Bio should not have cancelled the Chinese $400 million loan funded Mamamah Airport project, proposed by the former APC government of president Koroma.
But the Bio-led government argues that it is far more cost effective to expand and modernise the existing airport at Lungi at a cost of over $300 million, rather than to spend $400 million on a new airport in the north of the country.
So what has parliament ratified?
The following agreement was ratified by Parliament:
1. Build-Operate-Transfer Agreement for the Construction, Financing and Concession of Freetown International Airport by and Between the Republic of Sierra Leone and Summa Airports (SL) Limited, Dated 12th November 2020
Presenting the agreement prior to ratification, the Deputy Minister of Transport and Aviation, Sadiq Sillah said that the Freetown International Airport project would focus mainly on the construction of a new passenger terminal that will cater for three million passengers, construction of a VIP/presidential lounge, resealing of the runway, construction of the taxi way, a new airport traffic terminal, search and rescue fire force unit, rehabilitation of the car park and road safety and its signs.
The Minister said the construction when completed would benefit the people of Sierra Leone and provide over two thousand job opportunities for Sierra Leoneans; adding that it would boost the tourism sector and provide government with much needed revenue. The Minister also said the modernised airport will serve as a hub for cargo planes in the sub-region.
Making his submission to the debate, Hon. Ambrose Maada Lebby, Chairman Transport and Aviation Committee commended President Bio for transforming the image of the country positively; adding that there would be a unit to monitor the operational activities of the Airport; saying the project is not a white elephant but a real one under the canopy of the “New Direction Government”.
On his part, Hon. Dr. Roland Kargbo commended President Bio for the initiative and described the project as “a fine agreement”. But he decried the huge concession waiver given to the company and the huge money that is involved in the implementation of the project.
Hon. Aaron Aruna Koroma said the Bill of Quantity (BoQ) in the agreement is good for the country and commended the Ministry of Transport and Aviation for the agreement. But he cautioned the government on employment and other benefits it stands to lose and called on MPs not to ratify the agreement, given its economic disadvantages to the country.
Contributing to the debate, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Segepoh Solomon Thomas announced that Sierra Leone has passed the MCC compact scorecard and applauded the government and the people of Sierra Leone for the fight against corruption. On the project, he said the airport is just like the Toll Gate agreement and underscored that the agreement would benefit the people of Sierra Leone.
Hon. Abdul Kargbo commended the government for the agreement taking into consideration the enormous advantages the project has to offer to the people of Sierra Leone, but decried the huge financial consequences it would have on the government, Sierra Leone Airport Authority and Aviation Authority. He also implored the government to revisit and review the agreement because it is lacking corporate social responsibility towards the people of Sierra Leone.
Hon. Charles Conteh said the proposed expansion of the Airport is not viable for the People of Sierra Leone and outlined several factors in the agreement that would serve as impediment for development in the country.
In his contribution, Chief Whip of Parliament, Hon. Dickson Rogers said the expansion of the airport would boost the tourism sector and allay the fears of the opposition that no staff of the Authority would be laid-off. He also said the modernised airport would make Sierra Leone proud and give the country a new face-lift.
In rounding up the debate, Hon. Chernor R.M Bah, Leader of Opposition supported the idea of establishing a new airport and spoke on the need for the accessibility of the airport. He said other countries in the sub-region have constructed brand new airports from loan agreements and called for a better inland airport; considering time spent to reach one’s destination. “I’m not opposed to the agreement, but I want an airport that is quickly accessible within a definite location”, he stressed.
Concluding the debate, the Acting Leader of Government Business Hon. Bashiru Silikie said that during the ratification of the Toll Gate agreement by the previous government, as opposition then, they criticised the agreement, but they didn’t oppose the project.
He said the airport expansion agreement is very clear and viable for the nation; whilst underscoring the enormous benefits it would bring to the people of Sierra Leone. He called on the opposition to collectively join the government to ratify the agreement as it would stand the test of time.
On Thursday, 12 November 2020, President Dr Julius Maada Bio turned the sod (Photo above) for what State House described as “the commencement of a $270 million work on the new airport terminal project that will accommodate one million passengers per year and provide 2000 direct jobs for Sierra Leoneans in the construction phase.”
Welcoming government delegation at the proposed site in Lungi, in the North-western district town of Port Loko, Paramount Chief Bai Shebora Sheba Gbereh III of Kaffu Bullom said his people are overwhelmed with joy of a major project that could create jobs and improve the lives of his people.
“Your Excellency, three years ago the people of Lungi were devastated by the news of a new airport being planned for Mamamah. We are happy that you have restored that hope and dignity in us. We welcome this gesture and the people of this part of the country are fully in support of your drive to develop Sierra Leone under your New Direction government,” he assured.
Fatih Bora, Vice President of SUMMA Group, the contractors, said that they were honoured and excited to be a part of the transformation of the Freetown International Airport, adding that such development in a country would improve its economy.
He disclosed that the work would be completed in two years, noting that they are a Russian independent group of companies with holdings in port logistics, engineering, construction, telecommunications and oil and gas sectors and had worked in many parts of the world.
Chairman of the government’s office for infrastructure development – Dr John Tambi, expressed gratitude to the lead contractor, SUMMA Group, for showing interest in the country and for particularly undertaking the project. He said that the country is witnessing a vivid display of leadership that strives for the good of its people.
Emphasising the point that the project would be of no cost to the government of Sierra Leone and that they would be working closely with the private sector, Dr Tambi also clarified that the existing terminal and its associated facilities would remain intact and operational.
“This project is the radical transformation of the gateway of Sierra Leone. It will be implemented off mainstream government’s balance sheet, without taking loans or incurring debt,” he explained.
In his keynote address, before launching the project last month, President Bio disclosed that in the sub-region, Sierra Leone would be the only country where partners had demonstrated such confidence to invest such money in a major infrastructure project even during COVID-19.
“This also means that Sierra Leone under the New Direction is an attractive investment destination even with the current Corona Virus Pandemic. We are building this brand new airport without leaving the people of Sierra Leone in debt. SUMMA group will bring its own money – US$270 Million.
“They will Design, Build, Operate, and Transfer. The SUMMA Group is already operating other international airports in the ECOWAS region. Therefore, it will not cost the Government anything and it is not a loan. As I have pronounced before, this is how we will build new major infrastructure projects,” he said.
He said that they will build a brand new airport terminal, Presidential and VIP lounge – with ultra-modern equipment. The airport he said would accommodate at least 8 large aircrafts, adding that after its completion Sierra Leone will have a brand new airport – modern, safe, and a state of the art international airport reflective of the New Direction Government.
“This airport is designed…to enable us to take advantage of our strategic location to make Sierra Leone a major transit hub in the sub-region, particularly for air passenger traffic to South America (recognizing that Sierra Leone has the shortest distance to South America from Africa – about 6 hours flying time).
“We have potential to be a major transit point to and from South America to Africa and the rest of Europe. It will also attract major airlines and regional carriers. Sierra Leone will then boast of an airport that meets the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirement for airport certification for an international airport like Lungi. Our airport will be considered less risky and less costly to operate for international airlines. Reduced cost of airline operations will trigger more competition, more carriers, and better service delivery,” president Bio concluded.