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Proposed Toll Charges Are Very Unreasonable!

Proposed Toll Charges Are Very Unreasonable!

Parliament on Thursday 11th February, 2016 rejected the ratification of the agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and China Railway Seventh Group (SL) Limited (CRSG) for the widening of a four-lane and tolling of the Wellington-Masiaka Highway on a Build, Operation, Maintain and Transfer (BOMT) arrangement. The Members of Parliament had argued that the ratification of the agreement be deferred because of the absurdity of certain clauses in the agreement. They also suggested that vehicle owners, road users and the general public should be consulted and sensitized on the loan agreement, such as the categories of tolls and method of payment, as well as for the Chinese company to obtain the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Report, using EPA’s format, prior to the commencement of works, and the relocation of project affected persons.

Having read the stakeholders’ resolutions at meetings on discussions of technical, legal and financial proposals for the extension to 4-lane and tolling of the wellington-Masiaka Highway by China Railway Seventh Group (SL) Limited, I believe officials of the MDA’s with SLRA that played a leadership role in critically examining the technical, legal and financial proposals submitted by CRSG with a view to making professional recommendations to Government woefully failed to take into consideration the harsh economic realities on the ground which are affecting majority of Sierra Leoneans who live on US$1 per day.  Some of their professional recommendations to Government may sound relevant to national development, but what I take umbrage at is the unimaginable proposed toll charges that they accepted.

We all know that road transport is the commonest means of transportation for the movement of passengers and goods within the country. Most of the imported goods are therefore transported to the provinces by vehicles, notably, heavy trucks and trailers. The current transportation fares are already high, let alone the cost of transporting goods from Freetown to the provinces or vice versa. Those above factors and the high tariffs on imported goods have all contributed to the current price hike in the market.

But despite the high cost of living which the penury-stricken Sierra Leoneans who are in the majority are grappling with, the so-called MDA and SLRA officials that made the professional recommendations to Government for the signing of Franchising Agreement for the Wellington-Masiaka Highway had the temerity to accept Le500, 000.00 (Five hundred thousand Leones) as toll charge for tractor and trailer Unit, and Le400, 000. 00 (Four hundred thousand Leones) for a heavy truck. I find these toll charges very unreasonable, unimaginable and unthinkable given the current hardship among impoverished Sierra Leoneans who will have to bear the burden when business people will eventually inflate their prices to recover from the astronomical toll charges. Such national development would not be appreciated by most citizens and I believe the refusal of Parliament to ratify the so-called agreement was in the interest of the general public.

Nonetheless, officials that made the professional recommendations to Government saw it coming when they included the socio-economic risk as part of the expected risks to the project implementation. The socio-political risk states: 2.

*“This may arise if the citizens protest that the Toll Charges are too high. In the event of continued protests and demonstrations, the GoSL might be obliged to reduce the Toll Charges, which will have adverse effect on revenue collection for the project.

*RMFA representative in particular was anticipating protests by the citizens if the Toll System commences after extending the road to Four Lane from km0 – km10, and after attaining 30% of site clearing works on the entire road which is about km20.1.

*It was agreed in principle that in the event that there is a protest that the Toll Charges are too high, both parties (GoSL & CRSG) will share equal risk and liabilities towards the project. Therefore, a clause should be included in the proposed Franchising Agreement to capture this important aspect of the contract.”

What the RMFA representative anticipated about the toll charges was demonstrated last Thursday in Parliament by the people’s representatives from both sides of the aisle, which was very healthy for our fledgling democracy. So, instead of Government to wait for the people to protest or demonstrate against the unrealistic toll charges, officials that made the professional recommendations to Government for the signing of the Franchising Agreement should go back to the drawing board and come out with something that would be generally accepted by the public.

Moreover, Parliament must continue to reject the agreement until the unfriendly clauses they complained about are thoroughly revisited in the interest of the general public. By so doing, Government would have spared itself of the burden of using state resources to quell down public strikes and demonstrations for unreasonably high toll charges.

Every country needs road infrastructure but not at the expense of its citizenry. Of course, Sierra Leoneans need good roads in the nook and cranny of their country, but agreements with our development partners for road projects should not be at their detriment if they should appreciate such development.

In fact, the people should be sensitized on the project as the lawmakers suggested before its implementation to avoid any protest against the toll charges. But unfortunately, officials that made the professional recommendations to Government did not see it that way. Instead, they “agreed that in an event of a protest against the Toll System after the extension of the road to a 4-lane from km0 – km10 and after attaining 30% of site clearing works on the entire road which is about km20.1, there should be an effective nationwide sensitization programme in order to explain the rationale for that agreement.” This fire-brigade approach – waiting for something to happen before you proffer solution – to national issues that have the propensity to generate chaos should not be entertained any longer. The Government should first and foremost engage the people and explain the rationale behind the project before its commencement; and not when something bad has happened before it would act when it would be too late.

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