Victor Ako Mengot: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 January 2023:
The agreement for the construction and management of the new airpport was presented to Parliament on 16th December 2020 for ratification. It was presented by the then Deputy Minister of Transport and Aviation – Mr. Sadiq Sillah.
What was promised?
“The Government of Sierra Leone is projecting a massive increase in passenger arrivals at Lungi to over 1 million a year, which the current capacity at the Airport cannot handle.”
Q: What is the current passenger throughput at the Freetown International Airport Lungi?
A: Lungi airport currently handles 18,970 passengers per month that is aggregated to 227,640 annually
What was promised?
• Construction of a new terminal
• VIP/Presidential lounge
• resealing of the existing runway
• construction of a taxiway
• A new Air Traffic Control Tower
• A news search and rescue and fire service facilities
• New Cargo Terminal
• rehabilitation of the car park
Q: Are these promises met by the new airport?
A: Yes, according to a PowerPoint presentation by the SLAA General Manager at a press conference organised by the Ministry of Information & Communication on 26th January 2023.
Q: What is the nature of the agreement between Summa SL and the Government of Sierra Leone?
A: This is a Build Operate and Transfer ((BOT) contract for which the developers will be given a 25-year concession to manage the airport and recover their investment plus any interest in the loan.
Q. Who is the Summa Group?
A: This company is based in Turkey. But during the presentation to Parliament, the representative of the company Fatih Borah Vice President of Summa Group Russia declared that they are an independent group of companies with holdings in port logistics; engineering construction; telecoms; and oil and gas.
Source: Sierra Leone Telegragh Newspaper 17th December 2020
The debate in parliament and what was said at the time:
The government case:
– the construction will provide 2,000 jobs for Sierra Leoneans
– the project will boost tourism
– it will provide the government with much needed revenue
– it will serve as a hub for cargo planes for the sub-region
– the terminal is capable of handling 3 million passengers. This needs clarification because it did not specify whether this was an annual figure.
Q: What is the current annual tourism figure for Sierra Leone?
A: In 2019, the annual tourism visit was 71,000
Source: www.worlddata info>Africa
Reaction from MPs during the ratification process:
Hon. Roland Kargbo MP was concerned about the huge concession waiver given to Summa Group and the cost of construction
Q: What is the total cost of construction?
A: $270 million with a payback period of 25 years.
Q: Are the terms of the agreement, including details of the duty waiver given to the concessionaire being made public?
This information is not available in the Parliamentary records.
Hon. Abdul Kargbo advised that the Ministry revisits the agreement to ensure that the company includes a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) element in the contract
Q: Was the advice considered?
A: During an aforementioned press briefing, the Head of the Government Transitional Team opined that it is still in discussion with the concessionaire.
Hon. Dickson Rogers MP said that the new airport will be a boost to tourism and will provide jobs for Sierra Leoneans.
Dr. John Tambi, the Director of the Office for Presidential Initiative for Infrastructure (OPII), in rounding up, told MPs that the existing terminal and facilities will remain intact and operational
Q: What happens to the existing terminal, and how does it relate to the new facility?
A: No decision to date
The airport management was transferred to Summa SL on 27th January 2023.
Q: What happens to Sierra Leone Airport Authority (SLAA) and its staff?
A: SLAA will continue to provide operational services relating to air navigation, but the management of the airport is now in the hands of Summa SL
Q: How many people are currently employed by SLAA, and will they be retained by Summa?
A: There are around 500 employees at the SLAA. They have been issued termination letters by the SLAA, and should be entitled to end of term benefits. The government has assured the public that no employee will lose their job. To date, 282 members of staff have signed a new contract, and the others are in the process of doing that. A total of 432 personnel will be employed by Summa SL.
Q: Will the workers who were transferred to Summa SL have employment protection rights?
A: According to the government, their contract is valid for 12 months. During this period, they will receive specialist training to adapt to the new system of management/operation and will have to be reassessed at the end of the contract period for further extension of their contract.
Q: When will passengers begin to use the new terminal?
A: This is scheduled to take place in March 2023.
The new facilities at Freetown International Airport Lungi is a welcomed development, but it must be properly maintained, and the management must enhance security and customer services for the benefit of Sierra Leoneans and those visiting Sierra Leone for business leisure/pleasure.
Moreover, the government should reconsider the taxes imposed on airlines, which is reflected in the air fares paid by especially Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora because there is no doubt that they are the largest number of people travelling to the country at the moment.
About the author:
Victor Ako Mengot is a Former Air Traffic Controller at the Freetown International Airport, Lungi.