Things have gone full circle and SLPP is now in power

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 August 2018:

“Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed and are right.” H.L.Mencken

Those who went to village schools are familiar with the usual complaint by pupils about truant classmates. “Teacher, teacher, two fighting”, one would shout to catch the attention of the teacher. The hapless teacher would identify some culprits and holla, “One two, three, four – both of you, come here.”

Let me not distract you by talking about some village school in Pidegumahun. This is not about a village school but about two parties which are always at each other’s throat about who is moving infrastructure forward in this country.

To us hapless observers, we have heard it all before. I was not surprised last week that after the handing over of the land for the Bumbuna 2 project by the Minister of Energy to Seli Hydropower for the major Bumbuna 2 hydropower project, the usual argument started between SLPP and APC about who should get the plaudits for this major project that will significantly impact on our national energy situation.

SLPP supporters claimed it should be SLPP as the project had essentially been stalled because of APC’s bureaucratic red tape.

One APC supporter wrote: “President Koroma laid the groundwork for all the projects SLPP will undertake. They will be continuing his legacies. Bumbuna was an abandoned project that President Koroma met, dusted and revived. Credit for Bumbuna must go to Shaki and EBK.” “Wow”, I asked myself. “Why jump Pa Kabbah?”

This fight is not unusual and extends to all kinds of achievements, especially in the infrastructure sector. Each President in his handing over notes touts his achievement in the area of infrastructure only for the supporters of the other party to deride these achievements when their party takes over.

President Kabbah wrote in his handing over notes in 2007: “The following roads have either been constructed or are under construction: the Koribondo-Blama-Gendema Ferry Road in the South; Makeni-Kamakwie road in the North; Kurobola-Kabala axis and the Masiaka-Makeni road also in the North. Work is in progress on several other roads such as the Masiaka-Bo road mainly in the South and the Tokeh-Lumley road in the Western Area, thereby completing the Waterloo-Freetown/Peninsular road…….. Let me also add that feasibility studies for the Freetown-Lungi link road, the Lungi-Port Loko road and the Bandajuma-Mano River Bridge road have been completed and it is now urgent to secure funding for their construction.” He then mentions several other roads projects for which funding had been secured.” He further remarked about the energy situation in the country.

APC came to power in 2007 and avid supporters discarded all of these activities, especially disparaging SLPP for those projects APC had to complete. The usual remark was “Action pass intention”.

Things have gone full circle and SLPP is now in power. President Koroma in his handing over notes recently also touted his infrastructure achievements.

“Places like Kono got electricity for the first time in 32 years; Magburaka for the first time in 33 years; Port Loko for the first time in 32 years and Lumley Beach for the first time after 32 years. Charlotte village is also set with a brand-new hydro-electricity power supply. We have further secured a $53 million funding for the complete overhaul of the Bo/Kenema Power Station…….. we have completed the rehabilitation of the Makeni-Matotoka road in the North, the Port Loko to Lungi highway, the rehabilitation and widening of Makeni-Kabala Highway…………. the reconstruction of the Kenema-Pendembu highway in the East has been completed while the Pendembu-Kailahun highway is almost completed-the Bo-Bandajuma segment of the international highway between Liberia and Sierra Leone has been contracted out.”

SLPP is obviously bound to complete many of these projects and avid supporters have also started shouting “Action pass intention”. This is especially true of the roads and the Bumbuna 2 project.

The most appropriate analogy (which I mentioned in a piece years ago) I could find to these altercations between the APC Government and the Opposition SLPP over these issues, especially Bumbuna is in the Apostle Paul’s retort to the early Christians in Corinth who were torn between support for himself and Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3 verse 6: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plant, but it was God who made the plant grow.”

Cognoscenti of the Holy Book would tell us that Paul was inferring that their ministrations for God, though differing in character were part of the same process-Paul founded the Church in Corinth. This is apt for those who have a penchant for making everything political.

There are certainly some issues that should transcend politics and should be embraced across the political spectrum. I believe one of them is infrastructure development. At the fore of this is the electricity situation.

In a country with a 15% electrification rate and less that 2% of the rural population having access to electricity, it behoves all parties to put their hands to the wheel to address these serious concerns. Unfortunately, despite these dismal statistics, the electricity battle has been allowed to fester.

That the APC pulled out all stops to complete and commission Bumbuna 1 is beyond dispute. Political rhetoric apart, one has to applaud this Government under the auspices of the Energy Ministry and its dynamic leader Kanja Sesay for professing to follow through on many of the plans for the energy sector conceived by the previous Government.

The Minister has already said he is committed to the reform of the sector, has addressed some short-term commitments and seems to have his eyes on the longer-term goal.

It would however be unfair for any Government not to acknowledge the yeoman’s role played by many people in previous Governments in bringing Bumbuna on stream. I was fortunate to be in the know about this during my company’s two and half year role in the management of NPA between 2000 and 2002 and for a few years after that doing consultancy work in the sector.

I had the privilege of working with many esteemed people who were instrumental in letting Bumbuna 1 happen. Work on the Bumbuna Project had ceased in July 1997 because of hostilities in Sierra Leone. The ADB lifted the ban on the residual loan in December 2001.

Many other issues had to be sorted out which included the Government’s indebtedness to Salcost, problems with payment of SL Government local counterpart funds, the sourcing of alternative means of funding etc. I was involved in some of these discussions during trips to Abidjan and Rome with Government Officials and can recollect people who played important roles to achieve these objectives.

These include the Minister of Energy and Power, Dr Chernor Jalloh, the Permanent Secretary, Ernestus Coker, the Head of PIU, Nat Vandy, Samura Kamara (at that time Financial Secretary) and Sierra Leoneans within the ADB like George Taylor Lewis and Sheku Samba Deen (Ex Central Bank Governor).

Many other people were instrumental in getting help from various other donors for different aspects of the project. The role played by the Ambassador to Brussels at that time, Bon Wurie in sorting things out with the Italian Government was spectacular as was the general coordinating role played by President Kabbah.

APC finally did complete Bumbuna 1 and Bumbuna 2 work started under its watch. There are indeed many people who have played their part, in getting things to what they were when the new Government took over including President Koroma himself.

It is obvious from the foregoing that many people have played a role in the “planting and watering process” for Bumbuna. This in my view should continue as the job has only just started. We indeed have a long way to go. With our dire energy situation, we need to think national on such issues.

Some infrastructure should in fact not be undertaken on a national or enclave basis and a regional approach would offer more inclusive growth and a better multiplier effect both for Sierra Leone’s population and that of its neighbouring states, Guinea and Liberia.

Capital flows would be easier to tap and of greater magnitude if national priorities were cast into and satisfied by participation in regional programs. Sierra Leone faces Regional investment in the West African Power Pool which will, likewise, improve Sierra Leone’s capacity to build affordable electricity distribution off the back of regional transmission lines and pave the way to penetrate the interior with a national power grid.

We should be mindful of the fact that Africa sits at the bottom in the global rank of infrastructure by continent and Sierra Leone is in the bottom tier therein. This ranking is reflected in Sierra Leone’s low ranking against other African countries within the Africa Infrastructure Index recently established by the African Development Bank.

Physical infrastructure covering transportation, power and communication through its backward and forward linkages facilitates growth; while social infrastructure including water supply, sanitation, sewage disposal, education and health, which are in the nature of primary services, has a direct impact on the quality of life.

Without this infrastructure, we will not achieve the growth levels expected or required. Infrastructure planning and investment are therefore critical if our huge economic and developmental potential are to be realised.

Funding will remain a key challenge. For our infrastructure backlogs to be cleared, some form of collaboration with private sector players is a necessary and important precondition. We have a long way to go. Planning is obviously important, and we should not be saying “Action pass intention”.

That said, it is disconcerting to note that we are fighting to gain points over a situation which merely starts addressing our national energy needs. Whatever is being done at the moment with most infrastructure projects may be plugging huge gaping holes that have been left because of our past neglect.

Many of compatriots still do not have access to potable water and sanitation facilities. Many roads linking even our major District headquarter towns remain almost unpassable. Internet penetration nationally remains low. Provincial airfields are a thing of the past.

The housing situation leaves a lot to be desired. We are really in the doldrums with infrastructure. We therefore need to put things in the right perspective and be more “national” and bipartisan in our approach to infrastructure development.

But may be Mencken is right in saying: “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed and are right.”

It is true that infrastructure projects do take a long time and funding is not easy to come by-one Government will always start for another to probably reap the benefit of finishing. I look forward to the day when we will say about an infrastructure project “SLPP planted, APC watered, to Sierra Leone be the glory”.

But then, the politician might opine that it is naïve for one not to expect any point scoring on these issues. Probably a forlorn hope.

Ponder my thoughts.

 

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