By Samuel M Serry Jr :
Many would regard Sierra Leone as a prominent member in the club of ‘least developed’ countries of the world. And many too would also not refuse to acknowledge that the West African nation is among the fastest of those countries that are on track to occupy enviable positions on the global economic ladder. The Brettonwoods institutions have kept a close eye on our economic exploits ever since they realized we are the second fastest growing economy of the world with a projected growth rate of 35% by 2014.
I am not an economist, but when President Ernest Bai Koroma announced that his highly acclaimed Agenda for Change programme was going to metamorphose into a new Agenda for Prosperity, I looked round for some visible signs that would usher in this prosperity. Of course, the success in health, agriculture and infrastructure are obvious signs of this expected prosperity.
The Makeni Transport Terminal & shopping Plaza with a ramp for the disabled (right)
And as I take a closer look, I realized that national prosperity can only bear its true meaning when it is sustained and made to benefit every corner of Sierra Leone where the citizens had lived in hopeless hope, courtesy of those white elephant programmes initially implemented by those who do not only lack foresight but are morally bankrupt to create any meaningful change in the lives of their fellow countrymen.
A recent research conducted by this writer indicated that the nation’s pension scheme, the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) though contributing about 5% of our GDP is actually the largest fixed depositors in our banks. This in effect means that, the trust is providing what is referred to as ‘financial intermediation’ – preventing our financial/banking sector from collapse. In other words, NASSIT guarantees financial liquidity to this nation through its pension scheme and enviable investments now scattered all over the country.
One of these investments is the construction of ultra modern transport terminals and shopping plazas in Kenema, Bo and Makeni. Whilst the Kenema plaza is completed and fully functional, I decided to zoom in on the Bo and Makeni plazas which are at their advanced stages of completion.
In a snap visit to both plazas, I beheld prosperity coming to two of Sierra Leone’s most important cities – Bo and Makeni. The Makeni Plaza, perched on the foot of the famous Mena Hill is set to offer the most unique facilities found anywhere on the continent. I was taken on a conducted tour by Site Manager, Thomas Quarm from the Regimanuel Gray Estate Developers. He first led me into the transport terminal and lo behold!!…an excellent piece of architecture that kept my eyes flipping from side to side and my mouth wide open in utter admiration. The features include a restaurant, staff canteen, 12 guest rooms (for stranded travelers and visitors), a waiting, ticketing and baggage rooms just like you can find in any of those highly industrialized countries. The forecourt of the transport can accommodate up to 200 buses.
We moved to the gigantic Shopping Mall and wow…!! The gigantic edifice stood in all splendor and majesty. For a second, I thought I was in one of those magnificent shopping centers of Europe or America. Hey! am not bluffing; I’ve actually been to one of them and the Makneni plaza did remind me of one I visited and shopped in England -sorry, the name has faded away.
The plaza holds over 100 shops, a modern stairway, CCTV and internet facilities, cold rooms, a modern fire alarm system, medical clinic and offices for administrative staff. The plaza also had a ‘disabled ramp’ to provide access to persons with disabilities. This certainly could be the genesis for the constructing of disability sensitive buildings in Sierra Leone.
Costing US$ 3 Million, the Bo Plaza does differ in shape and size but has very similar facilities as the Makeni and Kenema plazas which cost US$ 4m to construct. And strategically located on an area once known as the Toma Elias Park, the NASSIT Bo plaza is already an imposing land mark in the country’s second city. All three plazas, I learnt would be managed as joint ventures between NASSIT and the councils of the respective cities – a deliberate move by the trust to promote stakeholder participation especially in the areas of monitoring to ensure proper use of the facilities.
I am not privy to any real management plan for the three plazas but there are clear indications that the Trust is not oblivious of the need put in place a robust management mechanism that would not only guarantee sustainability but would actually bring about prosperity to the respective councils, in the process help government realize the true benefits of a decentralized economy.
The Seaview Estate at Goderich is now attracting hundreds of Sierra Leoneans
Sadly, these phenomenal achievements have not found their way on the pages of some of our newspapers whose only concern is to vilify an institution that is clearly on track to usher in the prosperity we all carve for. I held no brief for NASSIT but as a responsible citizen, I believe we should stop being dangerously stupid the extent of castigating an institution we created to redeem ourselves from the clutches of penury. It is like shooting ourselves on the feet.
The Kenema plaza inaugurated late last year by the President has not only become an economic centre but a social cohesion point for the people of Kenema and its environs who previously would have to do with open and unsecure spaces to shop or access comfortable transportation to Freetown. Weddings, live band shows, etc are now held at the plaza to offer locals a diverse range of services. The Kenema City Council is already realizing the benefits of the plaza and Bo and Makeni are set to enjoy this prosperity pretty soon, I mean pretty soon.
Readers; NASSIT is arguably the largest investment outfit in Sierra Leone today. In the hospitality industry alone, the Trust has invested heavily on the Bintumani Conference Centre formerly a den of snakes and scorpions, Mammy Yoko Hotel, thoroughly ransacked after the exit of the UN, Kimbima Hotel, and are now gearing to revive the Cape Sierra Hotel which had sunk into a shameful state of disrepair. Let me leave that for another article. But for now, I wish to indulge all to embrace these investments as they bring about the prosperity we yearn for. Stop the unwarranted media attacks. Bad heart no mix.