Sierra Leone seeks $2 Billion funding for Lungi airport bridge to Freetown

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:

5 Comments

  1. I do not support constructing the bridge at this very point in time of our country Sierra Leone. What many politicians do not foresee is the engineering aspect of maintenance. The basic concept of maintenance and upkeep is lacking in Sierra Leone at the moment. Building such a bridge and the climate we have in Sierra Leone will be a disaster for future generations.

    For the simple fact that if those investors choose to abandon the bridge when cost of maintenance become too high, and the return on investment does not match their expectation, the future generations will have to shoulder the burden of such a bridge that will be too risky to use.

    And again let me remind fellow Sierra Leoneans that the bridge we are talking about will have a lifespan of sometime in the distant future, and will have to be dismantled. Please let us learn from other greats nations. If Sierra Leone is to become great, we must acquire the Knowledge and skill to build things for ourselves. Only then can we get ahead as a nation.

    Let us learn to delay instant gratification, for a long term gain. Having foreigners build the bridge now may sound good, but I fear thats the wrong direction for the country.

  2. Agree gentlemen – if you want to cross the vast ocean you have to lose sight of the serenity and safety of the shores. But then again, it will be ill-advised to start an arduous journey, crossing the unpredictable frothing, angry oceans on an old, fragile, rickety, flimsy boat that, without giving warning, could overturn and capsize because of the heavy loads of unpaid debts its already been carrying for countless decades gone by.

    Anyway you examine this expensive project of yours – up, down, sideways, it will still turn out not to be economically viable and feasible. Does the phrase “Prudent Precautionary Spending” mean anything to you guys? No? Alright so be it. Wherever pragmatic and sensible suggestions fail, then common sense as last resort to enact change must be used to drill into visionless and stubborn heads.

    For industrious individuals trying to live productive lives, and countries anxious to build sustainable, profitable economies, these are the four basic principles of sensible economics in my view, you would have to hold on securely to,that will serve as pillars for support, anchors for dependability and guiding lights, and beacons for helping one achieve his ultimate goals.

    Firstly Rationality, then Costs, Benefits, Incentives, and Marginal Analysis. For any economy to thrive and become viable, productive and prosperous, all of the above must work hand in glove together in order not to miss the mark or fall short of goals already highlighted to be pursued and achieved. Rationality is the quality or state of being reasonable or rational.

    For example, you do not take a leaking canoe and a broken paddle on a trip across the ocean, hoping all will be well. Its madness! Circumstances occur on their own and are not subject to your impulses and commands. It is a foolhardy risk, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.

    Rationality assures,and ensures with the utmost certainty,that any individual,group,or entity using its methods,effectively as a practical tool for improvement,and growth,must receive the optimal levels of benefits for their efforts, undertakings and endeavors.

    Your bridge is Irrational, because there are no logical or concrete ways for you to estimate and guarantee that it will become a lucrative venture that will pay itself off, without forcing the nation in coming years to dig deeper into the coffers of government to satisfy unforseen commitments and emergencies.

    Does 2 Billion dollars for an unwarranted bridge in these times of global economic hardships seem rational enough to you? If it does, then re-examine yourselves, your priorities are not in order. And then the Cost – same thing applies to the individual or an organisation.

    If a beautiful woman wants to buy a million dollar necklace and she only has 10,000 dollars in her bank account, will she be able to purchase it? Of course not, so she goes for a loan, buys it and gets stuck in debt for the rest of her life. The same applies to a government.

    Lets be realistic, Sierra Leone government revenue projections for the future are very bleak – You are borrowing monies here and there, and you don’t even have close to 100 million dollars guaranteed, coming to you in the next few years and you are thinking of spending 2 billion dollars on a needless bridge? Something’s wrong! Any way, I suggest we move on.

    Next in line for scrutiny and consideration are the Benefits that could be attained from building this pointless bridge. Listen, If its only going to save people time in commuting between Lungi to Freetown, then 2 billion is a total waste of money, not worth it at all.

    If you think the bridge will attract investors into pumping their hard earned monies into a society with no credible, corrupt free institutions and amicable political atmosphere, you are sadly mistaken. Quit gambling with the livelihood of millions!

    First thing first, create a credible corrupt free atmosphere, a legitimate judiciary, effective Central Bank and other financial and social institutions that may inspire and energize investor confidence, in case they would need to turn to them for protection and adequate redress.

    Why build a bridge for billions in a country where the margins of productivity are almost insignificant and shockingly lower than most countries in Africa – where individual incomes are peanuts, where the currency has no value, being pushed by every little economic wind, rising and falling like a playground Seesaw.

    Man, its easy to see. The Cost of your bridge will become a strangling noose around our necks. But wait just a minute…Will you strangle millions already in abject poverty, just to boast that it was you that built the Lungi bridge?

    Again, in what ways I ask you, will your bridge serve as an Economic Incentive to the citizens of Sierra Leone? Let me rephrase – How will your expensive bridge inspire and motivate people to become creative and engaged in lucrative business ventures that will help improve their standards of living and the country as a whole?

    5000 Jobs is a mere trifle. It could be counted almost as nothing. It will not even be felt or noticed in our country at all, with unemployment soaring at sky high levels.

    Lastly, Marginal Analysis – is a decision making tool just like the others. It is invaluable in helping investors and stake holders maximize profits, prospects and opportunities. All we have been hearing is that the SLPP wants to build a bridge, nothing more and nothing else. Where are the reports and studies indicating that this idea was thoroughly thought out? Truly laughable!

    They are playing us for suckers! Even an ordinary street vendor would have done better selling this unnecessary bridge to the general public.

    Why not seek the support of other parties and interest groups to give yourself more credibility, public approval and better positioning for leverage? When hunters go to forest to hunt, they travel in groups because rifles alone are not enough protection against the ferociousness of erratic, fearless hyenas. Invest massively in Agriculture and industries that yield quick returns. That’s what Sierra Leone urgently needs right now, not an overpriced and over hyped unnecessary bridge. Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  3. I am adding my voice to this intellectual discuss as a student in the field of environmental natural resources management,In analyzing the need for the construction of the Lungi bridge, I think its one among the decisions we should embrace in having a balance between our environment and the growth of our economy.

    I know it will cost us a lot counting the number of zeros in our currency when converted but we also have to pay attention to the Cost benefit Analysis, Cost Effectiveness, and the Economic impact. Rationally its clear that the population of freetown has attained its carrying capacity as a result of urbanization causing pressure on the space and also environmental externalities (pollution, land degradation, deforestation) which relatively will lead to degradation and depletion of most natural resources and the improper management of certain resources like (water).

    The construction of the bridge will surely reduce the concentrated population of our city and will also be a form of meeting the GOAL 8;9; and 14 of the United Nations sustainable Development Goals which is plus to us, tourist attraction in the area of Eco-tourism will also be boosted as we will have more people to come in our country and foreign investors who see affordable transportation with less risk as a criteria for their implementations.

    Remember we have some other structures we are paying for without any immense contribution in solving some environmental ills, the fear of most Sierra Leoneans is that Sierra leone is not in a proper economic sphere to do this, but we should note the words of Juan Cassablanca that if you want to cross an ocean you have to get the courage to lose sight of the shores, until we do something that have never be done we will not achieve something new.

    Every inch of the activities of life is a risk , this decision of the president is not focusing on collapsing an economy he is fighting to revamp nor to create a room for a lasting debt which he said does not make an economic sense for which I support.

    I think our prayer should be the success of his endeavors “In the era of the new direction nothing is seen impossible”.

    @myopinion
    SON OF AFRICA

  4. Mr Songa – I am at a loss for words! Where on this beautiful, awe-inspiring Earth did you guys study, learn and become convinced that putting to practice irresponsible, unrestrained attitudes of mindless extravagance in administration and governance is preferable to thriftiness,and prudent parsimony? Where? I would like to know!

    It is offensive to hear you comparing us to other developed Nations. Absolutely senseless! Our social dispositions, cultures, traditions and economic situations are not the same. Examine them carefully, and you will see. Do you have the slightest clue or idea how they were able to get there? Why won’t you people learn to cut your coats according to your cloths?

    Pragmatism advocates that we must build our aspirations – huts, mansions, and castles according to their respective foundations. Even birds build their nests according to sizes,and height of trees. Perhaps you should learn from them. Think on this for a minute – if this nation demands it in order to make progress: will any of you donate your organs – heart,livers,and kidneys,to build a needless bridge? I’m quite sure you won’t.

    So why are you letting the thousands of terminally ill,who do not have a voice, suffer and languish in misery,and poverty,instead providing them social welfare,and financial support?

    If the SLPP really thinks they can get Sierra Leone to outstrip Singapore in the area of progress in 5 years, it is alright with us, it is fine, but don’t waste outside monies,and the nation’s resources building such an unnecessary bridge.

    Why can’t provisions for affordable housing,and expanding agriculture,and Industry be among the highest priorities of this inept,pretentious government, boasting that it is here to give Sierra Leoneans a better standard of living?

    You think a bridge, even if paved with gold will make hungry families and many struggling communities happy, contented and at ease? What is wrong with you people?

    Why doesn’t the little guy struggling to make ends meet, inspire even the slightest form of empathy in your mean-spirited, self-centered, icy cold hearts? The City of Freetown is overcrowded, and needs to be reorganised and enhanced with adequate, high quality, functioning amenities and you are thinking of squandering money to build a silly pointless bridge?

    Our streets are full of the mentally ill, beggars and handicapped roaming and walking around homeless, hungry and uncared for and you are hoping for popping expensive champagne to celebrate an unwarranted bridge? Something’s seriously wrong with these people!

    Had it not been for the legal doctrine of “Sovereign Immunity” that gives a government immunity and protection from being sued to court, many of us would have dragged you guys there, without having any reservations at all, for outright displays of incompetence,and gross mismanagement of national revenues,and resources.

    Again claiming that three years ago, no one could freely criticize the government is an outright lie. To put plain and simple, it is just “BALONEY.” And the SLPP should stop acting like they are the only ones who love this country; If they really did,they will not be plunging it into the abysmal depths of debt.

    You were given power only yesterday,and today,all of sudden,there’s a chip on your shoulders.Hilarious! Now run along and tell your SLPP cronies they are not worth 2 cents in my book of sensible governance. Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  5. I have read a series of comments and listened to arguments regarding the Lungi bridge proposal. Some assertions sound brilliant; others are pointing negative fingers at the government. There is an insinuation that the president is setting a precedent in the country, by allowing people to vent out their feelings on national decision making.

    Two or three years ago, you dare not open your buccal cavity to challenge the decision of the government. Today we are enjoying our democratic freedom to tell Mr President and his government how we feel about the bridge. Bravo to him and his government.

    Having said that, what I have seen here is that some criticism carry personal vendetta, and are not in the interest of the country. Some people are making negative insinuations based on political party or tribal lines. When the government wants to take a quantum leap to cascade this country to international standard, let us please support him unless if it is not in the interest of the country.

    Don’t we think that it is better to spend this money on Sierra Leone herself than take it abroad and spend it on luxurious houses, children and concubines abroad? Sierra Leone is far behind in terms of development in any angle, compared to our sister countries.

    Do we always have to be last in everything? And for some of you who are comparing the cost of Lungi Bridge to the bridges around the world, what you have failed to realise is that some of these bridges were built many years ago and so the cost will be less. Secondly, these countries have the man power, the expertise and are capable of producing raw materials which we don’t.

    Now point one single finger on any of these bridges that have a train. None. Past governments have spoken about this Lungi bridge since Jesus Christ was a small boy. Now he is a grown man and we want to build this bridge. Please do not stand in our way. Take the back sit and watch the New Direction move this country forward. I have not seen a government in this country that is as transparent as this New Direction.

    If you speak evil of this country, evil will follow you. Can we spare our future generation by stopping corruption and being negative about this nation please? For some of you who were benefitting from the past regimes, good luck to you but please give us space to build this bridge. So many people are looking forward to this bridge. When you travel abroad and see how other countries have moved on, you will support the President who is in a hurry to bring this country from doldrums.

    Some people are talking about the cancelled airport deal and comparing it the cost of the Lungi bridge. But they are not taking into cognisant the felt needs of the people. Don’t just build the airport because you want it. The question is “Was the airport needed?” “Of what economic value was that airport to the country and the people at large?” Stop expressing hate for your country.

    If this president fails, my friend, it is the country that has failed and not him. Please criticize constructively and in a positive manner.

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