23 February 2012
The people of Port Loko District in Sierra Leone, this week vented their anger and frustration to the government for its persistent failure to keep to its promise of providing electricity and drinking water to their communities. The government had prioritised the provision of safe, clean drinking water and electricity across the country, when it was elected in 2007.
After almost five years in power, time is running out for the government as it runs out of cash to complete many of its capital spending programmes, with elections just few months away.
But for the people of Port Loko, a district that incorporates Lungi – where the country’s international airport is located, after waiting for over a year for construction and rehabilitation work to commence on their old and dilapidated water reservoirs, the question remains: “why is it taking so long?”
That question was put to the new minister of energy and water resources – Mr. Oluniyi Robin Coker, when he visited the district early this week.
He told the local communities that government had obtained a loan from a Bank in India and contract has been signed with an engineering company who would be carrying out the work, but offered no credible reason as to why the work has been delayed.
The minister repeated the promises of former ministers – that when completed, the communities will enjoy a daily uninterrupted supply of 8 Mega Watts electricity, which according to analysts is roughly the same as the combined output of both Blackhall Road and Kingtom power stations in the capital – Freetown.
Last year, there were media allegations of corruption and misappropriation of funds, meant for the completion of the electricity and water supply projects at Lungi.
Although the government denied those allegations, it was unable to provide credible evidence to prove that the procurement contracts for the supply of the electricity generators and the construction work – valued at millions of dollars, were consistent with the country’s procurement laws.
The government had been accused of purchasing sub-standard generators and equipment, which were later found out not to be fit for purpose.
But speaking on national television early this week, the head of the water supplies company – SALWACO, said that the reason for the long delay is that; ‘a decision was taken to extend the geographical coverage of the project, hence requiring more resources and an extended completion timeline.’
In the capital – Freetown, electricity blackouts in most parts of the city and the endless search for safe, clean drinking water, present enormous challenges for the National Power Authority (NPA) and the Guma Valley Water Authority, whose impotence in responding to the demands of the city, has become a national disaster.
The population of Freetown has grown from a mere 250,000 in the 1960s to a highly densely populated conurbation of 2.5 million people, mostly living in over-populated houses and post-war make-shift settlements.
The city’s electricity distribution cables and underground water pipes suffer from decades of underinvestment, poor maintenance, criminal damage and theft. But so too are the city’s thermal electricity generators and water reservoirs.
Since the end of the war, the government of Sierra Leone has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the rehabilitation of the Bumbuna Hydro-electricity dam, the installation of new diesel powered generators at Kingtom and Blackhall Road – funded largely by the Japanese government.
The British government has provided millions of pounds funding in support of the rehabilitation and construction of water treatment plants across the country.
But somehow, it is very difficult to see the fruits of those vital investments, as most communities in Freetown and other districts, continue to cope without safe clean drinking water, and endure many months of electricity outage.
The domestic generators used by households in 2007 to provide electricity are still in use today. The buckets used by families to fetch water from street stand pipes – often located many blocks away, to flush their toilets – are also in use today.
The dignity and pride of far too many people in the country are being battered by what must seem like a lifetime of deprivation and poverty.
A solution to the electricity shortage in the capital Freetown was announced by an NPA spokesman this week. He said that a new ‘load shedding’ scheme has been introduced in order to ration the supply of the 30 Mega watts of electricity the capital receives every day.
Bumbuna was designed to produce 80 Mega Watts of electricity after the government had spent hundreds of millions of dollars in developing the dam.
Today, Bumbuna produces only 30 Mega watts at the best of times. 18 Mega Watts of electricity used by residents of Freetown comes from Bumbuna, whilst the Kingtom and Blackhall Road power stations together supplies 12 Mega Watts.
Freetown alone needs a minimum of 100 Mega Watts of electricity to begin to function as a modern, developing capital city that can meet the economic and social challenges of the twenty-first century.
The electricity rationing strategy put in place by the NPA has carved out Freetown into three zones: zone 1 – western area, zone 2 – central, and zone 3 – eastern Freetown.
Yet few in the city believe this strategy to be new. They say that electricity rationing has been the pre-occupation of NPA for as long as folks can remember, which does not say much for confidence.
The prioritisation of electricity and water by president Koroma in 2007 as part of his electioneering promise was all well and good.
But after five years in power and having spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the country’s ailing water and electricity supply networks, the taps are still not running and Freetown remains in darkness.