By Kabs Kanu
There is nobody who would not like to see the Lungi Bridge constructed at last. It is a mouth-watering prospect because it will bring so many socio-economic advantages to the country.
Providing a direct link over the sea between mainland Freetown and the Northern region of the country could address a problem that has haunted our nation for decades –the search for a new capital city for a country whose present capital has become so dangerously overcrowded by migrations from the hinterland, with all its attendant problems of overcrowded housing, escalating environmental damage, overflowing trash, depleted social and economic services etc, it is a dangerous place to live. The bridge provides a wonderful prospect to expand the capital of Freetown to another whole new and abundant world , all just through an 8-kilometre bridge across the sea.
As a huge number of the population begins relocating from the mainland across the sea to Lungi, it will be a golden opportunity to start knocking down and demolishing all those unsightly and ancient wooden structures and zinc houses that call themselves dwelling places and create a more aesthetic and beautiful Freetown.
If he pulls it off, President Maada Bio will definitely engrave his name in the immortal history of the nation as the man who actually and finally provided the magic key for the dangerous enigma that is Freetown and even more daunting problem of visitors and tourists having to face the prospect of enduring a hazardous and risky sea travel by unsafe boats and ferries to get to Freetown. So , to say the idea of the Lungi Bridge is not a brilliant and laudable project is untrue.
What seems to be the problem is the cost to a nation that is socio-economically and politically on life support.
I made a quick research on the advantages and disadvantages of Public-Private Partnerships, the method President Bio says he will use to fund the Freetown-Lungi Bridge. While it is another brilliant idea, there are many risks for a very poor country like Sierra Leone. . Public-.Private . Partnerships have a high failure rate as seen in the Netherlands where PPP-based transport infrastructure projects failed
While the Lungi Bridge project seems a very brilliant and laudable project and nobody wants to discourage President Bio, asserting that it will be at no cost to poverty-stricken Sierra Leone is therefore stretching the truth. While PP Partnerships have succeeded in some countries, they have failed dramatically in many countries and the economic consequences for a dirt-poor country like Sierra Leone, if it fails there , will be astronomical and catastrophic, economically .
The lessons from Nine Transport Infrastructure Projects in The Netherlands, after an extensive study, proved that the partnership is a big risk and readers can go and read “The Formation of Public‐Private Partnerships: Lessons from Nine Transport Infrastructure Projects in The Netherlands” by J. (Joop) F.M. Koppenjan.
In his abstract, the author posits that “Despite high expectations, in The Netherlands the formation of public‐private partnerships (PPPs) in the field of transport infrastructure is stagnating”.
He tells why PPP failed in the Netherlands : “On the basis of a comparative analysis of 9 case studies concerning the building of partnerships, 3 patterns are identified. The first is the successful formation of partnerships resulting in enriched projects. The second pattern is that of early interaction resulting in ambitious proposals for which there is no support. The third pattern shows ineffective market consultations followed by unilateral public planning, leading to stagnating contract negotiations.”
The factors that led to the failure of PPPs were generic and if they affected a rich and industrialized nation like the Netherlands, what will be the prospects for such a poor country with dwindling resources like Sierra Leone ?
Do we have the political will , systems of transparency and accountability and economic guarantees to stave off the first problem of PPPs —lack of interaction, which according to the study under review causes “public and private parties to fail to reach a common understanding, and thus ” unable to contribute to the enrichment of the project content” because of failure to develop mutual trust. ” With corruption endemic in our country, what tradeoffs will partners demand before involving themselves and what costs will it be to the nation, economically ? Will President Bio be forced to mortgage our diamond and other mineral resources as trade-offs to generate this much-needed mutual trust ? What do we have to offer ?
Therefore , to say that the Lungi Bridge will be at no cost to the nation is misleading. It might generate so many economic problems for government, it might not be worth the pains. Even citizens will bear the pains. Only a moron will believe that after spending $2 billion to construct the bridge, partners will not look to recoup their losses through extravagant and debilitating toll charges to use the bridge .
TO BE CONTINUED