Salone minister lobbies Britain over flights resumption
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Transport and Aviation is currently in London lobbying the British government to review and reverse its decision to ban Gambia Bird from flying directly into Sierra Leone to Britain, but as Sorie Sudan Sesay reports from London, his first meeting with the Under Secretary of State Department of Transport, appears to register some progress…
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Transport and Aviation has said there has been no single case of Ebola since measures were first put in place at the Lungi International Airport following the outbreak of the Ebola virus.
Hon. Balogun Koroma was speaking during a meeting with the British Under Secretary of State in which he pleaded with the British Government to consider reviewing its decision to ban Gambia Bird and other international airlines from flying into Sierra Leone.
The Sierra Leonean minister said his country is at war with the world’s most deadly Ebola – eleven years after the end of the rebel war – and it also came at a time his Government was trying to put in place the health infrastructure which has been badly damaged by the rebel war.
Minister Logus commended the British Government for coming to the aid of the Sierra Leonean people at such a desperate time in need.
‘We are happy that you came to our aid just in time and in a very big way,” said the Minister who disclosed that, as a government, they have devoted about 80 – 90 percent of their work towards the fight against Ebola.
Mr. Koroma said the resumption of The Gambia Bird flight will have a major positive boost towards the fight against Ebola.
The Minister said that Ebola screening in the United Kingdom could have been more effective through a direct flight from Freetown to the United Kingdom, instead of passengers coming via Brussels, Casablanca or any other third country.
Responding, the British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State MP Robert Goodwill said the decision to ban flights to and from Sierra Leone is as a result of concerns raised by the British public and the press.
“It’s a decision to reassure our citizens, managing public opinion through the press considering the strong influence the press has on the British public,” Goodwill said.
The British Minister also agreed that direct flights bringing essentials Ebola supplies to Sierra Leone as against going through a third country will be more effective.
He however said that Britain will for now only involve with Gambia Bird in chattered flights transporting relief supplies to RAF bases in Freetown as well as moving with DFID officials, NGOs and other organisations to Sierra Leone.
Goodwill said his ministry will review the issue with the aim of taking a permanent decision on the resumption of flights to Sierra Leone at the most appropriate time.
In a separate interview, the Sierra Leonean Minister shortly after the meeting said he was happy with the outcome of the meeting and hoped that the review process would be positive.
Earlier, Sierra Leone’s High Commission to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Edward Mohamed Turay, thanked the minister for meeting them at a short notice and called on the Transport Under Secretary to use his good offices to ensure that their request is fast-tracked.
The meeting came two days after the Sierra Leone High Commission sent an official request to the House of Commons to review and reverse the government’s decision to revoke the license of Gambia Bird.
In a letter dated 17th October 2014 and addressed to Rtd. Hon. Keith Vas MP, House of Commons, the High Commissioner writes, “the challenge my country face with the Ebola outbreak is the greatest we have encountered since the end of the civil war – the revocation of the license of Gambia Bird has the potential to undermine the overall response of the United Kingdom and the laudable effort to put health workers and equipment on the ground.”
“I refer specifically to the recently announced decision by Her Majesty’s Government, on the 13th October, to revoke the license of Gambia Bird Airlines to fly from Sierra Leone to Britain.”
“The decision comes one month after the airline announced the resumption of its flights on that route and less than a week after HMG pledged to contribute £125 million to the fight.”
The High Commission will also be making an official representation to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a desperate attempt to continue to lobby the British Government to review and subsequently reverse the decision to ban the Gambia Bird flights operating in Sierra Leone.
Britain is taking a leading role in ending the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone having contributed about £125 in addition to providing logistics, medical and relief supplies as well as military medics who are currently based in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown.