Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 October 2018:
After six months of uncertainty as to whether the newly elected government of Sierra Leone, led by president Julius Maada Bio (Photo), may decide to resuscitate the much criticised Mamamah airport construction project established by the outgoing APC government, came a letter few days ago from the government, informing project staff that it is closing the project.
The controversial Mamamah airport construction was going to cost the people of Sierra Leone $400 million, through a loan agreement between the former government and China.
The Chinese were also contracted to build, manage and maintain the airport, which was to be located on the doorstep of the former president’s political heartland.
Critics of the Mamamah project, including the World Bank had questioned the cost-benefit of a new international airport, especially as the existing airport at Lungi is struggling to achieve its full capacity, because of fewer international passengers arriving and leaving the airport every year.
The existing Lungi International Airport which is located on an estuary just few miles across the Rokel river from mainland Freetown, has recently been redeveloped with over $200 million funding from the World Bank.
With several international flight operators, including British Airways not flying to Freetown, the closure of the Mamamah project makes economic sense for a country that is struggling to find money to pay for the delivery of healthcare, education, and access to water and electricity.
Two weeks ago, KLM – the Dutch airline operator, announced that it is to end its flights to Freetown and Monrovia.
Sierra Leone must do more to develop its tourism industry, if it is to attract greater numbers of tourists into the country. And a new international airport costing $400 million is not the answer.
The newly elected government says that it is planning to develop Lungi as a commercial and tourist hub, including the construction of an international conference centre, new road infrastructure, and an improved supply of water and electricity in the area.
This development in Lungi could transform the existing airport into a world class facility.
The government is also seriously considering the construction of a bridge across to Freetown from Lungi. This should solve the aged-old problem of travelling to and from the Lungi airport from Freetown.
The cost of constructing the bridge which could take about five years to complete does not come cheap. It is estimated at $1 Billion.
But supporters of the bridge project say that the benefits of having a bridge across the river to Lungi will far outweigh the costs, including the environmental impact of its construction.
The government says it will soon be commissioning a feasibility study into the construction of the bridge, including cost-benefit analysis and a proposed business model for the recovery of the $1 Billion investment by the government.
A source at State House told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that the government is looking for private sector partners for collaboration in the construction of the Lungi bridge and the development of Lungi as a commercial and tourist hub.
Such private-public partnership could reduce the government’s investment burden and risk , if successful.
In the meantime, what is certain is that the Mamamah international airport project conceived by the former Koroma government is dead. This is the letter sent to the Director of the project by the government: