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Sierra Leone’s gateways – Lungi International airport and customs are a traveller’s nightmare!

Sierra Leone’s gateways – Lungi International airport and customs are a traveller’s nightmare!

Sierra Leone’s coastline is the best in West Africa, it has the best natural harbor and beaches, so one might conclude we should have the best tourism industry. But despite this positive natural endowment our tourist industry has been struggling and will continue to struggle for the next 10 years until a serious overhaul of this industry and its economic links takes place.  (Photo: Arolyn Koroma)

Over the years the two gateways: the Lungi International Airport and the Sierra Leone Port of Authority, Customs has again been turned to experience another Operation Pay Yourselves (OPY). This attitude from the managers to the porters has left the nation little or nothing to show for these natural features that are the envy of  both the Western World and Sierra Leone’s neighbors.  

These two Gateways;  the nation’s Customs and the Airport  are very instrumental in the economic well being of any nation, because tourists, international investors and nationals come through them day in and day out 24/7. The manner in which these potential investors and tourists are treated at these major ports of entries makes a big difference. It makes them feel like they want to repeat coming as tourists. And for investors it appeases them, they feel comfortable and safe to come back, but with Operation Pay Yourselves in operation tourists have their lives and heard earned properties to protect.

As a result, it is the nation that loses.   

The 1980’s and 90’s could be referred to as government missing in action (GMIA) in the lives of these lucrative national entities. Presently, with the President’s attitudinal change these entities are the only anti-reform government enterprises left on the block, whose drivers are either sleeping on the driver’s seat or simply against changes.

Sierra Leone airport is the only institution employees leave home knowing how much money in thousand or in millions of Leones he or she is going to bring home at the end of the day at the expense, frustration, and nightmare of the travelers (nationals, investors and tourists). In an effort and determination to bring these funds home the airport employees are armed with sharp objects; knives, and blades to open travelers’ suitcases, portmanteau, and barrels etc. This is the only airport in the West African region  wherein the carousels  will spin for thirty minutes while travelers anxiously wait for their luggage to show in the airport luggage area, while employees are busy tearing them apart and  removing valuables from travelers hard earned personal effects. The travelers are left helpless as there is neither a tourist office, no credible airport lost and found office, nor a government office to help. Of course, before going to the police, one will be better-of sacrificing it.  The probability of recovering your belongings is non existent, without the right connections in the country. Then one might ask how do foreign travelers survive in these thief infested national gateways?

By all accounts, these entities ‘operation pay yourself ‘ are worse now, because promotions are based upon who brings the most to the supervisors and managers at the end of the day. These entities are rebellious against the president’s attitudinal change that is sweeping across the nation. The corruption and thievery in the airport has been a growing legacy over the years that has turned to a chronic cancer. These are the last rebellious entities standing in the way against international investment and tourism industry progress in the land.

The culture of stealing has its roots in these two government entities and they will be the last to give it up and accept the attitudinal changes to move our nation to the next level.

The laws of the state must be so stringent that these enemies of the state or members of these cartels will be discouraged by choosing to either steal o r risk serious jail term for traveler’s harassment.

The airport has been turned to a den of thieves entity incorporated and protected by the managers. The managers have compromised their authority by the itch to live above their supposed standard of living at the expense of the travelers. The managers bring back into their employment those felons who are jailed as long as they produce what they stole. To them internationally sinking our nation’s reputation does not matter, what matters is their rouge employees.

Though the government is getting less return on investment in these entities, government authorities ignorea the negative impact these entities are bringing on our nation. For instance few months ago on a foreign diplomats visit to this nation, a nation that he loves with a passion turned sour grape for him when his media crew’s equipments including television cameras were stolen at the airport. The felons had to be jailed before some of the items were recovered. The thieves are still on the airport payroll, in the name of bribery and connections.

A Sierra Leonean, Mrs. Augusta Nyamba, and her German husband’s two years planned vacation turned a nightmare for the family. The family bought an 18 seat passenger van to leave for the family as a transportation van. And in it were all their belongings including their two children’s (four and five years old) personal belongings. Mr. Mitchell Roddewig departed Germany a week after their van and other personal belongings arrived. They went to customs to clear their vehicle to find the vehicle’s rear window removed and the van emptied. The frustrated Mr. Roddewig turned red and made his decision to fly back right at the Water Quay. His two months vacation was reduced to two weeks. As a silent protest to his equally upset wife, Mr. Mitchell Roddewig wore the only short pants and T-shirt the thieves left behind for two weeks and flew back to Germany.  Police report produced no tangible result. These are only two stories among thousands like these a year. Stories like these surface almost every week at the police and the airport establishment’s management, but only laughs comes out of them, because either the culprits are foreigners who can’t stay longer than their visas can allow or nationals who go to the police until they give up for no police action on their cases. How low these government entities and its employees have to be to continue acting like this, and thus destroying the hard work our government is putting in to re-brand this nation?   How safe are the thousands of dignitaries who are about to converge to Sierra Leone for the 50th year Independent celebration?  Will the nation’s second uncle Tony Blair, who loves this country so much, be able to go home with his briefcase or will the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II go home with her golden purse?

I urge civil society to rise up against these employees. It is our collective responsibility as Sierra Leoneans to help government where it cannot effectively impose its authority. Individuals must work with tourism and form a Tourist or Travelers’ Council where victims can register their heart rending situations and get results, and perhaps recover their properties whether at home or abroad. These ill actions of the very few can paralyze our tourist industry and negatively impact our proud nation’s reputation to the outside world.

Do Sierra Leoneans have to wait until the BBC announces that the Queen lost her luggage in Sierra Leone? Do we have to wait until the President of Sierra Leone, the Attorney General or the  Police Chief is on their way to an important conference and have  lost their important documents or briefcases before action is taken to stop the vandals at the customs and the airport? 

When former acting minister of Health, the Hon. Mohamed Daudis Koroma fired nurses who made it their business to feed on the food designated for the Kissy Mental Home many viewed him as heartless and wicked, but this is the only action ruthless, lawless, and uncontrollable employees can understand and the Customs and Airport employees are not different from the nurses actions.  These are perhaps the worst enemies of the state.  Hon. Koroma belongs to the unique leaders this country needed at this critical moment in our history, to carry out the sweeping changes the nation is embarking upon. We expect these patriotic managers of these unique entities; the Sierra Leone Customs and the Sierra Leone Lungi International Airport to make drastic changes before our ultra 50th Independent Anniversary in April 2011. 

We will continue to watch, listen and investigate for a part 2 and 3 before the April celebrations. Diaspora has set up a telephone number of victims to call +240 667-4304. Please speak slowly and distinctly give your arrival date and time, which will help managers to locate who was scheduled that day. Write down the name of the airport authority you reported your problem to. 

With your cooperation the Diaspora will assist you locate an attorney to sue Airport Management or Customs Management to recover your loss.

By Arolyn I. Koroma, Washington, D.C. – USA

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  • Hello,,,
    A very intresting and well-written article indeed.
    I am moving to sierrea leon in few weeks with my family ,,my husband got an expatriate assignemnt for next two years ,,after reading your article i am very concerned about safety and security issues at airport and in free twon as well, I m travelling with my two lil girls one is 4 and other is almost 2. Could you please advise me what actions/security measures shall i ask my company to provide us in order to avoid this dangerous situation at airport.
    Looking forward to your reply and many thanks in advance.
    Best Regards.

    24th February 2011

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