Sierra Leone’s Minister of Transport and Aviation (MTA), Leonard Balogun Koroma, has disclosed efforts being made by the Government of His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, through his ministry to procure buses from the People’s Republic of China that could help ameliorate the perennialchallenge faced by the country in terms of public transportation.
During a one-on-one interview with this writer held in central Beijing on Monday, 12th May, Minister Koroma said, he has “signed an agreement with Poly Group Technology, in the People’s Republic of China, for the supply of 100 new buses to the Sierra Leone Roads Transport Cooperation…”
Minister Koroma was in the People’s Republic of China, specifically in Macau (Special Administrative Region-SAR), with the Director of Airport Transfer Project, Hindolo Sharka, to participate at the 5th International Infrastructure Investment and Construction Forum.
He also used the interview to talk about progress made so far, towards the construction of the new Mamamah Airport, as the ministry is working on having His Excellency President Ernest Koroma to do the commissioning by June of this year. This was how it went:
JBS: Why the visit to Macau?
MTA: It was at the invitation of China Harbor .China Harbor is involved in investment projects in Sierra Leone, particularly with the Port Extension Project at the Queen Elizabeth Quay.
The forum was attended by a consortium of Chinese companies- the InternationalAssociation of Chinese Contractors who are working all over Africa and of coursefinancing institutions like China EXIM Bank(Export and Import Bank of China) and the Government of the People’s Republic ofChina, represented by the Ministry of Commerce. It was a big and successful event.
JBS: How big was such a success especially for a country like Sierra Leone from the viewpoint of what was or would be gained?
MTA: As a country, I made a contribution to the forum particularly in my meeting with the Assistant President of China EXIM Bank. I impressed upon him that China EXIM Bank should focus amongst the priority projects or infrastructural projects that have an economic value and quick economic returns.
In the case of Sierra Leone, I would specifically refer to Port Infrastructure Project. This is because we are blessed with vast mineral resources. But one of the problems that we are facing now is the speedy export of our mineral resources, particularly Iron Ore, which will bring corresponding revenue earnings to the Government. So, the Deep Seaport should be a priority project in the eyes of China EXIM Bank.
Also, the construction of the nucleus of a National Railway Network with dedicated lines to the miningcorridors, so that from the mines, they can transport the Iron Ore to the Deep Seaport which can accommodate the biggest size vessels, and they would be able to speedily export the Iron Ore so we would have the corresponding returns economically to develop the country.
JBS: And what was EXIM Bank’s response to such a submission?
MTA: The response was positive because the Assistant President of EXIM Bank immediately invited me to Beijing to have a meeting with them and discuss that project. The response was immediate, I was happy about that.
JBS: You spoke about priority projects. The country’s blueprint for development the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ deals a lot with infrastructure. There is the pending construction of theMamamah Airport, with funding from China. Did you discuss this project with EXIM Bank?
MTA: Let me start with the Prosperity Drive you referred to.
All the economic forecasts for Sierra Leone are dependent on returns from our natural resources. It is from those returns that you can finance agriculture, tourism, and infrastructural developments. So, itmakes a lot of sense to concentrate in the speedy extraction and transportation of those resources to the international market. That is the only way you can get the revenue to meet with the growth forecasts that have been made for Sierra Leone. So it is important that the Government invests heavily in Port and Railway Infrastructure so that we could meet the export target.
Talking about the Mamamah Airport Project; indeed it is a priority project of the Government and we have gone very far. In my discussions with the Assistant President of EXIM Bank and the Manager of the African Export Loan Department of EXIM Bank and China Railway International who are thecontractors, we are now at the stage of reevaluation .This is because the project is now going to be divided into two phases; Phase 1 and 2. Phase 1 will make the airport operational and will cost a total of 200 million dollars .Phase 2 will be additional services that will not be contingent on the airport after Phase 1 and those will come in later at a cost of 112 million dollars.
China Railway International (contractors) will be having a Board Meeting to finalize the reevaluation process and meet with EXIM Bank. All we are waiting for now is a final date for us to come back with the Minister of Finance and sign the Loan Agreement for the commencement of the Mamamah International Airport.
JBS: So, in essence funds are now available for that?
MTA: Yes, funds have been approved by EXIM Bank for that. But we have to complete the procedural arrangement and then funds will be released.
JBS: Any specific date of commencement?
JBS: Public transport system is a major challenge in Sierra Leone. What is your ministry doing to address this problem?
MTA: I have signed an agreement with Poly Group Technology in the People’s Republic of China for the supply of 100 new buses to the Sierra Leone Roads Transport Cooperation .Those buses, hopefully, should be delivered to Sierra Leone by August-September this year. This will go a long way in easing the transportation problem facing not just Freetown but the country.
JBS: There is a ban on the use and importation of right-hand vehicles into Sierra Leone. Why did you take such a decision and when is the implementation date?
MTA: It was announced 1st September 2013 and since then Sierra Leoneans have complied. No right-hand vehicle has entered the country through the Port since then because we have a monitoring system.
The ban is in conformity with the laws of Sierra Leone especially the Roads Traffic Act. It is in conformity with the UN World Decade for Action and Road Safety and in conformity with ECOWAS Protocol. Our roads are designed for left hand vehicles for you cannot see incoming vehicles which causes a lot of accidents, amongst other reasons.
The full ban comes into effect 1st of September 2014. That is, one years after the announcement.
We have given a public notice announcing garages that are doing the conversion. I started it myself for I own a right-hand vehicle which I have converted myself.
The penalties will be; no registration of right hand vehicles after 1september 2014 and secondly any time you drive such a vehicle, you will be fined Le 500,000. I am calling on sierra Leoneans to call on the garages that have been identified to do the conversion because there will be no sacred cows for the law will be applied fully.
John Baimba Sesay
Sierra Leone Embassy,
People’s Republic of China