By Idrissa Conteh :
I have just read the news story below posted on a WhatsApp forum on President Julius Maada Bio’s recent official visit to China and would like to make a short comment on it.
The distance of the proverbial Lungi Bridge is 21 miles! Its location is Hastings which is the shortest distance to Lungi.
If constructed, it will be the second longest bridge in the world after the Beijing Bridge that connects mainland China with Hong Kong which is 50 miles.
The Beijing bridge cost China $ 15 billion and the construction took seven good years (2011-2018).
If Sierra Leone should take another loan from China with interest for the construction of the Lungi bridge, the project would require nothing less than $8 billion to be repaid over a period of over 200 years!
Besides, bridges built under oceans also need periodically maintenance services for which Sierra Leone has no technical expertise. So, the burden of maintenance services would eat deep into our annual budgets making an already bad situation worse.
The Mamamah airport, on the other hand would cost the government only $400 million, as per the previous arrangement made by the APC administration.
I strongly believe that the Mamamah airport will be more economically viable and would help decongest Freetown and create new opportunities for our people.
In effect, the difference between $8 billion and $400 million is too huge. Taking the $8 billion loan will be tantamount to mortgaging the country to China and endangering the future of generations coming after us.
It doesn’t mean because the Mamamah airport project was initiated by the APC so it should be rejected by the SLPP without examining its merits and demerits.
Sierra Leone is a country in the stone age era and needless to state that the country has no minimum capacity to manage such a highly technical engendering project.
Sierra Leone operates like a rogue state with no repayment plans for its debts. So, why take such huge loans when you have no repayment plans and no capacity to generate funds in the first place?
Mamamah airport is a better option to the Lungi bridge.
*President Bio Engages PowerChina on the Construction of Lungi Bridge*_
*Beijing, China*- During the elections as then Presidential Candidate, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio was fondly remembered as the candidate who repeatedly stated that he will be a President who underpromises and overdelivers rather than a President who overpromises and underdelivers. With so much of the manifesto promises he is delivering on, citizens now describe him as the “talk and do” President, a reputation he has earned throughout his public life.
The construction of Lungi Bridge is a project His Excellency has never promised but always keeps very close to his heart. He could not hide that sentiment weeks ago when a foreign delegation paid him a courtesy call at State House and he told them he is actively looking for reputable companies to engage in the construction of the Lungi Bridge.
Again keeping true to his words, His Excellency President Bio on Thursday 30th August 2018 held a meeting in Beijing with an internationally reputable Chinese company, PowerChina International Group Ltd on the construction of Lungi Bridge. Explaining the importance of the proposed Lungi Bridge, a passionate President Bio said that the bridge will open Sierra Leone for business and attract more investors and tourists.
President Bio also said that Freetown is too congested and the construction of a bridge will not only reduce that congestion but also promote economic development. He encouraged PowerChina International to consider the construction of Lungi Bridge as a very important project that will bring huge relief to many Sierra Leoneans and make our country an enviable tourist destination.
The President of PowerChina International Group Ltd, Mr. Song Dongsheng praised President Bio for his great leadership and passion in attracting investors to Sierra Leone. The President said that PowerChina International is very interested to construct the Lungi Bridge as the company is reputed for investment in many Africa countries.
The President also said that the construction of the Lungi Bridge will be a honour for their company and they are delighted that President Bio is very determined for the construction of the bridge as that will also create many employment opportunities. One major challenge for the construction of the Lungi Bridge has always been the financing aspect and the Mr Song Dongsheng assured President Bio that financing will be through off-balance sheet.
Also in attendance at the meeting was the Minister of Finance who was very pleased with the proposed financing of the construction of the Lungi Bridge saying that off-balance sheet is the most internationally acceptable mode of financing as that will not incur any debt to the Government.
Updating the President on the proposed project, the Chief Minister, Professor David J. Francis who has been the focal person, said that while the proposed construction of the Lungi Bridge is the key priority yet the whole package of the project will include the expansion of the airport and creating an economic free zone. The Chief Minister said that constructing a bridge will mean more increased traffic for flights and passengers which is why expansion of the airport must go with the construction of the bridge.
Following a successful meeting, President Bio invited PowerChina to visit Sierra Leone for a more detailed discussion with the relevant ministers and the Chairman of Presidential Infrastructure, Dr John Tambi. The President of PowerChina International Group Ltd accepted the invitation and agreed that the company will visit Sierra Leone in October wherein discussion will be held on feasibility study, detailed financing and a technical meeting on the design with Dr. John Tambi.
For many years, the construction of Lungi Bridge has been described as a political death-trap issue for past Presidents. For the first time we have President Julius Maada Bio who, even though, did not promise to construct Lungi Bridge yet, in less than six months in office, he has shown passion and commitment no other President has shown before. Despite the proposed bridge will be connecting both Lungi and Freetown, this is another vivid example of a President who believes that developing a country should not be based on only developing his political stronghold.