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.