Sierra Leone – We will remain focused and never be distracted

Puawui – Dr. Sama Banya: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 June 2019:

“I am delighted to open this investors’ conference on the Tender process for the proposed Lungi Bridge. It is one of our priority areas for investment leading to economic diversification.

“We believe infrastructural investment should not burden the country with huge debts”. 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 high interest loan for 10, 20 or 30 years that simply does not make economic sense.”

“We also believe that infrastructural investment 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 skilled training and transfer with implication for real incomes for local Sierra Leoneans. We will insist on that for every infrastructural investment.

“We also believe that infrastructural investment leads to new businesses, and new businesses create more jobs, lead to new settlement or new population centres, create a need for new and more services, and increase an overall productivity that can only be good for our country.

“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 than the possible alternative); and whether it can lead to the development of other sectors of the economy – tourism and travel, mining, construction, small scale manufacturing etc….”

I have quoted the above statement verbatim, which is part of the statement of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio in connection with the recent investor conference. In my primary and secondary school days, most of our readings books were in BASIC English (British, American, Scientific, International and Cultural English).

And our teachers guided us to understand and appreciate the beauty of the English language even though it was not our mother tongue. I have therefore been amazed at the spate of criticism, many of them ill-founded or biased and with the usual anti-Maada Bio or SLPP flavour.

My interpretation of the President’s statement is that it is an investor’s conference. That people have seen what we need to do, and willing to invest their capital; and hopeful that investors and business people can recover their capital and make handsome profit.

During the preparation for the infamous OAU conference of 1980, many of the projects were turnkey. Investors decided on the cost of the infrastructure and put it up and government had to pay the bill.

I have continued to be amazed at the number of projects for which as minister of finance in Dr. Siaka Stevens’s government, I had to find the money. I had not been familiar with them while I was minister of Planning and Economic Development.

Our country never fully recovered from the disastrous misadventure for many years. But here we are as I understand it, we have selected a project, a priority one at that, calculated its estimated cost and now invited business people to examine and to see whether they would want to invest their capital.

Readers may recall that over 300 prospective investors were reported to have attended the recent investors conference in London, which was jointly organised by the governments of Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom.

It is my view that the people who attended the investors conference for the Lungi bridge were some of those who may have attended the London conference, and were therefore convinced that they would get a good return on their capital if they invested in the Lungi bridge.

From what I understand from the emphasis in President Bio’s statement, the project is not being done at the expense of other infrastructural developments. Am sure that most of us see it that way as well.

The President’s development drives are wide spread; none is being done at the expense of the others.

Many of the critical commentators on the Lungi project have talked about prioritising electricity, as if they are not aware of the ongoing development that would include Sierra Leone into the West Africa Power Grid.

They talk about Senegal building a new capital city situated about 20km or so from the present capital Dakar, as if President Bio has not explained the multi benefits of the Lungi Bridge.

Others as usual have tended to compare the Lungi bridge with George Washington bridge, the Golden Gate bridge in the United States, and even with the recently constructed world’s highest bridge in China.

Others are thoughtlessly suggesting toll charges on the bridge ranging from the ridiculous figure of $10,000 to almost $50,000.

Is all this not simply an exercise in mischief, making such comparisons when the ferry fee for a vehicle to Lungi is only Le40, 000?

Our arm-chair critics even forget that the investment is not expected to pay for itself in less than 25 years, almost the same length of repayment for the Masiaka tollgate road.

From my perspective, many of those pointing fingers or picking holes have never been appreciative of the development strides of this government. But we shall continue along a path that continues to gain the admiration and approval of the majority of our people as well as of our development partners.

The likes of us who may now be in the departure lounge of life, may by the Grace of God live to see this dream come true. A dream that will not only fulfil the vision contained in His Excellency’s statement but benefit our children’s children and the next few generations.

None of our critics has given a thought to the fact the Lungi Bridge will shorten the travelling time between the capital Freetown and places like Port Loko, Makeni, Kambi,a on to Guinea and to the North generally.

We will remain focused and never be distracted.

11 Comments

  1. And there you have it – out of nowhere,another magical Sunrise resurfaces,mesmerizing,the whole of Creation.Awesome! Truth be told,sometimes it gets boring,and tiring, meditating on the peaks of Everest alone,while deeply immersed,in Super consciousness,and transcendental reflections – but the good news is,its never for too long; because Existence always has the strangest ways of allowing a rare,clearheaded individual like Mr Lamin John Samura to appear,and add icing on the cake of Prudence, making it tastier for all,while at the same time,trimming,and designing beautiful sunrises with their enchanting golden colors. Thank you for your kind words Sir!

    Not surprised at all, to hear someone talking about INSURANCE for the Lungi bridge,without actually knowing the specifics it entails – what is involved,and what he is actually taking about. Do you have any idea,how high,are the yearly premiums tied to Bridge Insurance,especially those stretching over rivers,and vast oceans? Do you? Can this struggling nation afford millions of dollars for prompt,payments of insurance premiums yearly? Has no one ever told you,that the risks surrounding a project, makes premiums high,expensive,and unaffordable? Have you estimated,how many people could lose their lives,or get permanently injured,and disfigured while building your unnecessary bridge?

    Will your government with coffers empty like a beggars bowl be able to compensate them,and their families adequately enough? So many credible questions! It usually takes a minimum of 5 years for high risk Insurance policies to be even be considered for evaluation,and then final settlement,Why? Because a thorough investigation has to be done first,to see if inferior materials were not used in the construction of your needless,expensive bridge – not to mention enquiries into suspicions of gross negligence, poor maintenance,faulty,substandard designing,and malicious sabotage.

    And remember,Insurance doesn’t cover acts of war and terrorism. The Waiho River bridge,in New Zealand,was washed away by hurricanes; And the wrath of Desmond destroyed hundreds of bridges in Europe,and they are still there in heaps, rubbles,fragments,and pieces,languishing under scrutiny,and evaluation. No one knows if,or when compensation will ever come. And these people – Europeans,don’t have half the rainfall we experience during the rainy season. – see what happened to them!

    Insurers will always use simple clauses,and technicalities to avoid paying full coverage on premiums. After all Insurance Coverage in itself,is a money making, lucrative business venture. They are in it strictly to win,and not to lose.They may end up not paying you a cent. So why take foolhardy risks, swimming with merciless sharks,instead of investing precious time and money in safer,and greener pastures with trustworthy, harmless,gentle ewe lambs.To build or not to build is not the big question – But,can You afford to Build? Now there’s a noose,wrapped tightly around your necks. Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

    • Your adjectives “unnecessary, needless and expensive” in describing the proposed Lungi Bridge, and your closing statement “Rising Sun Will Rise Again” clearly shows which side of the line you stand. You may have ideas on world issues but your geographical knowledge which you happen to use as a basis in criticising this project is a mere sham.

  2. Thank you, Saidu Conteh, for analyzing the issue I had with the venerable Dr Banya’s contribution on the proposed Lungi bridge. I’m a long suffering Sierra Leonean who tries to look beyond the scorn and derision that is suffered on those who try to approach major issue with the interest of Mama Salone beyond which party or Government is in power.

    When the current Government was in opposition, they cried foul about Mammah airport, for good reason I thought at the time. With that in mind, I scratched my head to blood to see them pushing so hard on a bridge to Lungi. To what purpose? What would a bridge do that an improved set of the current infrastructure dedicated to bringing travelers between Freetown not be able to do without mortgaging education and healthcare of future generations of the Beloved Sierra Leone?

    An investment in three ferries, along with significant improvements of Kissy Dock Yard and Tagrin – and the roads connecting them to Freetown and Lungi International, respectively, should, with astute management, all but ensure meeting or exceeding the primary goal of serving the airport and national tourism.

    In fact, think of visitors enjoying the cool waters of the Sierra Leone River and the beautiful backdrop, all the while being given a lesson in Sierra Leone’s history and offerings. It could be the near perfect welcome to Salone!

    But there’s more. Freetown is also now more accessible by road through Port Loko and onto the expanded four lane highway near Newton; and a link to the Western part of the city through Grafton and Regent. This is a worse case scenario even, but could still be infused with the history against a no less beautiful backdrop and view of the city and country.

    Don’t forget, finally, that private investors have an outlet to Aberdeen and the potential remains for the development of a short air travel to and from Lungi.

    I would argue that until the tourism demand bursts the waters of the Sierra Leone River, we have, with a much less costly improvement,the basic infrastructure in place to successfully make a trip to Salone memorable for anyone (and one should add, to effectively serve those carrying the briefcases of national business).

    So yes, Saidu Conteh, this bridge should not be high in Sierra Leone’s Scale of Preference. With due respect to Puawui, his justification does not meet common and economic sense on this matter. It rather reminds me of the professed waste he describes in the ill fated attempt to host the OAU over which he presided, albeit the means to this end is well hidden in an ‘open process’.

  3. All in the name of APC and SLPP fighting each other. The lungi bridge must be built. As long as it’s not a financial burden on us.

  4. It is hard to hear these comments from Doctor Banja. Its unbelievable that when you were Minister of finance during, Shaka Probyn Stevens time,I was just a little kid so confused and troubled and can’t even understand what was happening in my land of birth.

    Now I am well informed that, with people like sir, our nation will ever remain to be stagnant, hopeless and deplorable. Allow me to follow suit with my respectable compatriots Mr. Saidu Conteh, a man with immaculate vision and a truth Sayer. It’s come to my notice however,for so long a time,our preferences have been continuously shaped by our so call leaders,who are in lieu “MISLEADERS”. Your short-sightedness and lack of wisdom is of a gigantic proportion sir.

    I am a ‘nuetralist” and liberal,but For God sake sir,you,as a Minister of finance and country planning in those days,see how disastrous a liability you have incurred to successive generations and you still have the gut to encourage His Excellency J.M Bio to swim under a bridge (full with white sharks) that will cause his drown; great hostility and suppression to the people of Sierra Leone by imposing toll system which will only benefit, ‘Economic-Vultures” waiting to devour the pockets of humble people like did the previous government; to our one and only “low way road” (new Freetown_waterloo high way) surrendering it to the Chinese.

    There are other preferences on the scale that needs prompt and acute attention that will enhance a sustainable job creation for the vast majority of the people, like industrial polygon areas, for the comcentration of all arts and skills, fishing and mining, Well planned affordable homes, agriculture, education etc etc.

    Allow our engineers to take up the responsibility to make and design our roads, bridges, houses. In such, to develop the social infracture the land badly needs…because “practice makes perfect”. Sir,with all due respect,it is time for you to quit politics and let in the new generation of diaporan Hustlers to steer our country to the right path of opportunities.

  5. Indeed the business of life is so complexed and serious that prudent minds have examined and concluded,it is only through sincerity and openness of heart that genuine, tangible,sustainable progress in all our endeavors can be attained. Sincerity is a rare attribute that showers her intrinsic blessings on honorable men, who remain steadfast and unshaken in their beliefs, but not those who change sides, opinions and stance like the clothes they wear. Now again, men who achieved nothing economically for our nation during Stone Age times,are advocating to build an expensive, unnecessary bridge in this chaotic financially challenging 21st Century.

    And lord knows, I am not the one ever to second guess the decisions of Old Stevens. But sometimes I wonder, and cannot help but ask myself – what sentiments made him choose a man like the writer as Finance minister, overseeing the affairs of a nation, still struggling and crawling in its infancy? Was it empathy and kindness that clouded his vision?

    Are not competent Finance ministers supposed to safeguard the interest of future generations to come? So what happened? Where are the national financial assets – stocks,bonds,mutual funds,cash deposits,and reserves that should have been prudently stashed away in safe havens,long term procurements,for the purposes of rainy days in Investment banks abroad?

    And where are the credible tax institutions,that the writer was mandated to create under the directives,and auspices of government that would have matured and started yielding robust revenues for government by now? Did the writer create any, and put them in place scores of years ago? Nope, I don’t see any at all!

    Well to be frank, all he did and encouraged was shortsightedness in administration,that went hand in glove with reckless, ill advised, irresponsible spending. And now, like a another Season of drought, here he comes again – after failing this nation miserably once before, anxious and determined to lead it astray all over again, away from fiscal responsibility and evenhanded accountability.

    What kind of Finance minister promotes indulgence in mindless extravagance in governance and national affairs, instead of practical,cautionary,prudent spending? Since when did borrowing and reckless spending become preferable worldwide to prudent parsimony? Goodness gracious! Even street vendors who never went to school, can manage their little carts and wares, and make better decisions than these people.

    Ever heard the term, Scale Of Preference? Its an effective theoretical tool in Economics, which when applied and used correctly can transform lives instantly for the better. Its methods advocate that in order to achieve maximum fulfillment in a vast collection of our desires, it is paramount that our needs be satisfied according to how urgent and pressing they are or may appear. Now that’s the simpliest principal in economics – works perfectly just like a double-headed screw driver.

    Consider this: throughout history, it has been said that there are two things among a few others that won’t ever fail you – salvation if you confess and repent, and the Scale of Preference wherever it is implemented and applied correctly. My brethren, sincerity of purpose and unavoidable, stark, daily realities tell me that there are millions of urgent, pressing needs suffocating our little fragile nation, and deserving of thoughtful, careful considerations and attention than an expensive, needless unwarranted bridge.

    Well Hey – If you are going to spend and waste borrowed money, I would advise you spend it wisely on programs for the sick, poor, disabled and elderly instead! And what if after entangling and shackling yourselves in this poorly conceived agreement with investors, massive tornadoes end up crashing, wrecking and crumbling your expensive bridge like a deck of cards? What happens then? You think investors will just fold their hands and walk away in tears, crying? Sadly mistaken! That’s when you will find out that innocent clauses and minor technicalities lying idle in agreements, are the biggest weapons in the hands of Investors.

    And please, don’t even be naïve to utter that such a thing won’t ever happen, because it has happened many times before in other countries. Ever heard of the Titanic? Well it was the unsinkable ship that sank in a merciless, angry, unforgiving ocean that swallowed hundreds of innocent lives.

    The IMF knows very well that your bridge is a waste of time and money that’s why they didn’t even consider or mention it while spoon feeding your childish impulses with another high interest loan. Go right ahead waste money and precious time, transform streams and rivers to barren deserts through your frivolous, inept spending. Let children go to bed hungry while you pave your bridge with gold and see if in the next election you are not washed away into oblivion, by the massive waves of the APC. Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

    • I personally will welcome any political party in government that brings sustainable development to our country, because foremost of all I owe my loyalty to Sierra Leone. The Bridge Must come and with it improvement in the life of our average citizens. For my politically biased fellow citizens, next time when you are in power stop worshipping your leaders for doing nothing. Titles don’t bring development, but VISION.

  6. My goodness I can’t believe such comments and contributions from fellow Sierra Leoneans. I personally used to listen to Dr. Banya, read his articles, but today it comes to my mind that wisdom is better than having a doctorate degree.

    Even the richest countries including USA, have over $18 trillion debt and so what? These people give no credit to the SLPP gov’t – neither to the late Tejan Kabba that brought amicable peace that APC party enjoyed for over 10 years. All the destructions that APC gov’t had done to this country, believe it my brother nothing is in hiding, and will be exposed at any given time from now.

    H.E.RET.BRIG. J.M.B.has taken this big risk for the development of this country. Can we pray for him fellow Sierra Leoneans? President Bio we are with you, and God mighty will help you through this process, may God be on your side.

    • Brima, with all due respect, I think you’re confused about the article you may have just read. And I will put less emphasis on the verb, “Read.” Dr. Banya’s article is in favor of the the proposed bridge, as I understand it. But reading from your comment, I am under the impression that you are castigating his position for the bridge. Please elaborate if I am wrong.

      Personally, I am for the bridge because it is predicated on private, public, Partnership, which, as its name implies, is contract between the public, which is the government, and private investors. While former would eventually end up assuming ownership of the infrastructure, the latter, comprised of astute businesses men and women, are responsible for all expenses tendered to building the bridge.

      For those who pondered how the investors can recover their loot in case of a catastrophic natural disaster, there is something called “insurance,” offered by many for profit organizations around the world. No one in their right mind would ever risk such a large sum of money on a project without insuring his or her investment. So I am not at all concerned about that.

      My contention about the revealed contract of the bridge is with the length of years, 25 projected, when the government will assume full ownership, operations and maintenance of the infrastructure. I find it inconceivable that these investors will be able to recover their two billion dollars investment within the term purposed. The math does not simply add up, no matter what projected businesses opportunities are said to accompany the building of the bridge.

      My supposition is there are contigencies in the contract that the government has not been forthcoming about. I think the term of the contract to assume ownership is realistically north of 50 years, not 25 years. And I think that is misleading. In conclusion, the Citizens of any democratic society have the right to question any business venture that government undertakes on their behalf.

    • Am sure most people making comments here dont live in the country. Lately, fuel prices have gone up; shops are closing and moving to other countries. We are moving backwards. People are dying in hospitals. There are bigger things to adress than a 2 billion dollar bridge.

  7. Don’t say that the likes of Dr. Banya may now be on the departure lounge of life Dr. Banya. Such phrases makes some of us nervous. You will surely live to see all your dreams come true. We will pray and ask the almighty GOD to keep you alive and well so that we will continue to learn from your experience. AMEN AND AMEN.

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