President Koroma launches 40 new buses bought by government of Sierra Leone
February 2, 2012 – “We promised to improve the quality of life of our people, and we are doing so… We are not making promises on what we will do. You see what we have done in electricity, roads, health… Now, you are seeing with your own eyes what my government has done in the 40 buses being launched today, not with donor money from donor countries, but, with money from the Government of Sierra Leone….”, President Ernest Bai Koroma exultantly said yesterday, February 2, 2012, during the “historic” launching of forty Ashok-Leyland buses by the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC) at the National Stadium in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
President Koroma triumphantly said that the buses manifest his government’s “ commitment…and sensitivity to the plight of the ordinary man”. He said he was move into taking action after seeing how people in Freetown especially, including children and youth, would queue up for long hours to go to school and work in 2008, and he then ordered his officials to do what is necessary to alleviate the people’s plight.
Standing amidst the crowd in the Presidential Stand, dressed in the dark blue polo shirt of Ashok-Leyland, and wearing a matching base ball cap on his white haired head, the President was buoyant as he promised: “The road we have just started will not tire us out until we have 1,000 buses plying the country, transforming the face of public transportation in the country…”
“We are No More in the Age of Criticism… We are in the Age of Implementation”
– Vandy Minah, transport/aviation minister
As the crowd standing on the stand applauded, and banner-holding red-clad partisans on the main bowl whooped and danced with traditional musicians, and masked devils, President Koroma unveiled two new initiatives by the transport ministry: a) the construction of a new airport on the mainland of Sierra Leone which will start before the 2012 General Elections in the country – upon completion, the airport is expected to end the nerve-racking crossing by ferry from the current Lungi International Airport to downtown Freetown; b) studies are also being done by experts, and financing sought, for the re-introduction of a railway in the country.
President Koroma, speaking in the lingua franca, Krio, exhorted Sierra Leoneans to “take leadership” of such projects; and urged the “private sector to develop ideas, and seek financing for, such opportunites in the transportation sector”.
The Minister of Transport and Aviation, Hon. C. Vandy Minah, spoke of a “revolution” in the transport sector in Sierra Leone. This would not only involve provision of buses and other technology, but, will mean “Total Customer Care – Respect or the Public; Respect for the Assets of Government; Respect for each other…”.
The internationally-trained and once-internationally-practicing Barrister-at-law, Hon. Minah, with victory exuding from his normally unruffled demeanor, politically punched: “We are no more in the Age of Criticism in Sierra Leone!! We are in the Age of Implementation. There is a saying that ‘Nothing speaks louder than facts on the ground’; for us in transportation, we say, ‘Nothing speaks louder than buses on the road’”.
The Chairman of the National Privatization Commission, Hon. Abu Bangura, spoke of the “finance engineering” that has resulted in the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB) raising the money for the forty buses, with administrative support from the Financial Secretary, Edmund Koroma (who received special praise from Hon. Bangura), the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Dr. Samura Kamara, the Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone, Mr. Sambadeen Sheku Sesay, and the Chief of Staff in the President’s Office, Dr. Kelfala Marrah.
Mr. Bangura said in Krio that there is a “wrong perception” by the public that the initial 12 buses and 13 buses bought by the SLRTC in 2009 and 2011 respectively were donated by the government of Libya when Col. Muammar Gaddaffi was Head of State. (Many people in Freetown refer to the buses as “Gaddaffi Buses”). He said the government of Sierra Leone had financed the purchase of the buses through a loan by the local ECOBANK.
The Chairman of the SLRTC Board of Directors, Mrs. Rebecca Ballu Conteh, said the buses show clearly that the “test case” of President Koroma’s Agenda for Change in the transportation sector has been successful.
The Managing Director/CEO of the SLRTC, Bockarie Lewis Kamara, was overflowing with praises for the leadership role played by the President in making the buses a reality; and also lauded the transport/aviation minister, Hon. Minah, and his deputy, Hon. Osmond Hanciles, for badgering him with telephone calls and text messages to ensure that agreed on objectives are realized.
The Master of Ceremony, the most famous MC in the country, Dennis Streeter, in his opening address said the fact that the buses were not “donated by a foreign government to Sierra Leone…shows that we have changed drastically….and this is strikingly significant” of the direction in which President Koroma is leading the country. He also heaped praises on the “indefatigable” transport minister, Hon. Minah, and his deputy, Hon. Osmond Hanciles.
The buses, with the brand name Ashok-Leyland (founded, and originally owned, by British manufacturers), were manufactured in India by the London-Stock-Exchange-registered Hindujan Brothers, owned by an Indian family, with interests in petroleum in the Gulf, and the Amas Bank in Switzerland. Their consultants had done a five month study of the road terrain in Sierra Leone, and custom-made the buses to suit the roughest road conditions in the country. The company which has a body assembly plant in Nigeria (where they have 900 of their buses plying the routes there) has its buses plying in African countries from Egypt, Kenya, Guinea, Gabon, Congo, Rwanda, to Angola and South Africa. The Indian-owned company has given SLRTC a one year warranty on the buses, and is poised to train a number of Sierra Leoneans on the maintenance of the buses in India. The MD/CEO of SLRTC, Bockarie Lewis Kamara told this writer that the SLRTC has been renowned for having the only tertiary-level auto mechanic institution in the country; a programme started with the German government in the early 1970s, but, which has been sustained by Sierra Leoneans when the Germans left the country during the heat of our civil war in the 1990s.
By Oswald Hanciles, Special Assistant to the President (Media Outreach)
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