Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 June 2019:
“We believe infrastructural investments should not burden the country with huge debt. They should be financed in a way that the public and future generations are not liable for that debt………So we are not going to build a bridge or an airport for which the people of Sierra Leone are going to pay back a high-interest loan for 10, 20, or 30 years. That simply does not make economic sense.”
Those are the words of a president who is in a hurry to uplift his people from poverty, through private sector led economic growth.
But achieving such an ambitious goal will not come cheap.
Sierra Leone desperately needs to up its game in attracting foreign direct investments in its fishery, agro-processing, tourism and farming industries.
However, the logistical nightmare of travelling from Lungi Airport to the capital Freetown – a distance of about 10 nautical miles, is fraught with danger and risks.
Successive governments have toyed with the idea of constructing a bridge across the Lungi estuary to mainland Freetown, but lacked the courage, political will and conviction to proceed with the massive capital costs involved.
Today, president Julius Maada Bio has launched a tender process for the construction of an eight-kilometre long bridge, linking Lungi with mainland Freetown.
The bidding process will commence with an invitation to potential investors to express interest in investing in the project, which president Bio said “must be competitive, transparent, corruption-free, and must offer the best value for money”.
The president strongly warned against bribery, kickbacks, red tape, and other corrupt practices that have dogged previous infrastructural projects in the country.
The construction project is estimated to cost about $1.8 billion, and will be funded through public-private partnership involving the government.
In order to attract this level of investment through public-private partnership, the government must secure sovereign debt guarantee.
There are reports of expression of interests already received from several European and Chinese companies who are willing to undertake the project on a ‘build, own, operate, and transfer business model’. They will recover their investments by charging road users a toll fee.
Investors will also be looking to the government to offer generous tax waivers as government’s investment contribution to the project.
Construction of the bridge is projected to create over 5,000 jobs for unemployed Sierra Leoneans.
The bridge is expected to yield a projected economic return on investment of about $11 billion for the government, with a lifespan of 120 years. Construction is expected to take between four to six years.
The main economic benefit of this massive project – the largest single infrastructure development in the country since independence, is that Lungi could be developed to become a commercial hub and tourist centre, with an expanded airport that can accommodate increasing tourist numbers and greater airline traffic.
It could also see the construction of several commercial office space, hotels, expansion of entertainment and leisure businesses, light manufacturing premises, as well as office space for the relocation of public institutions and government departments, creating hundreds of thousands of job opportunities at Lungi and surrounding areas.
The Chairman of the Presidential Infrastructure Initiatives – Dr. John Edward Tambi (Photo – Tambi and president Koroma at the launch), said that for over 58 years since independence, Sierra Leoneans have endured the huge challenge of crossing over to Lungi from Freetown – a journey that has led to the death of hundreds if not thousands of people, businesses and local economies destroyed.
He said that successive governments have come and gone, with promises to construct a bridge crossing to Lungi but nothing happened.
“Today we all witness a great milestone under the leadership of President Julius Maada Bio. The New Direction Government has taken the bold and audacious task to build the bridge across Lungi. This is not a small project and we believe with God we can achieve it. I thank you all for your presence because it is a vote of confidence to the New Direction,” he said.
Delivering his keynote speech to launch the bidding process, this is what president Bio said:
“I am delighted to open this investor conference on infrastructure. It is one of our priority areas for investment leading to economic diversification.
So what I am going to do in this short statement is to start this conference off by saying how my government views infrastructural investments.
We believe infrastructural investments should not burden the country with huge debt. They should be financed in a way that the public and future generations are not liable for that debt.
So we are not going to build a bridge or an airport for which the people of Sierra Leone are going to pay back a high- interest loan for 10, 20, or 30 years. That simply does not make economic sense.
Each infrastructural investment must be able to pay for itself in 10 to 20 years depending on the financing model that is used. Each must also be worth the cost of constructing and maintaining it over its life span.
Therefore, each infrastructure investment should be affordable and must be funded without recourse to publicly guaranteed debts. We also believe that infrastructural investments must be purposeful. They must unlock tangible economic growth and improve the quality of life of the citizens.
In the construction and maintenance phases, there must be real job opportunities and skills training and transfer with implications for real incomes for local Sierra Leoneans. We will insist on that for every infrastructural investment.
We also believe that investors look at available infrastructure as a critical factor for making investment decisions and this consideration will drive each infrastructure investment decision we will make.
We also believe that infrastructure investments lead to new businesses and new businesses create more jobs, lead to new settlements or new population centres, create a need for new and more services, and increase overall economic productivity, That, can only be good for our economy.
We also believe that we should prioritise infrastructural investment decisions by asking critical questions about feasibility, sustainability, selectivity (Is this investment better and much needed now that the possible alternatives?); and whether it can lead to the development of other sectors of economy– tourism and travel, mining, construction, small-scale manufacturing etc.
As a Government, we are working to ease the investment landscape right across board and we maintain a long-term view of all investments including infrastructural investments. We desire that each investment yield long term benefits. We desire that each investment trigger off economic activity and growth over the long-term.
We also believe that the tender process must be competitive, transparent, corruption-free, and must offer the best value for money. We strongly discourage bribery, kickbacks, red tape, and other murky transactions and practices around infrastructural investments. This government and this country strongly discourages corruption.
So it is within this context that we are undertaking all infrastructural projects in this country. I have therefore directed the Office of Presidential Infrastructure Initiatives to be particularly attentive to all the foregoing critical elements in launching the tender process for the Lungi bridge.
I will closely superintend the entire process and ensure that every tender is compliant and every tender is in the best long-term interest of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans. I thank you.” (END OF PRESIDENT’S SPEECH).
President Bio has raised the stakes. He has called the shots and now he must deliver. Whether foreign investors will find this proposal attractive enough to commit $1.8 billion, remains to be seen.
So far, there are strong indications that with Sierra Leone poised to strike commercially viable oil production, investors are seriously considering investing in Sierra Leone.
Investing in the construction of the only bridge linking the country’s international airport at Lungi to the mainland capital Freetown, must be at the top of their list.
You can listen to President Bio delivering his speech here: