Will Government Listen To World Bank?
The controversy swirling over the proposed construction of an international airport at Mamamah in Koya Chiefdom, Port Loko District is always being amplified by World Bank whenever the opportunity arises. For instance, when the Government of Sierra Leone last year announced the proposed construction of the Mamamah International Airport which it claimed would be funded by the Government of the People’s Republic of China on loan, the World Bank reacted promptly by questioning the timing of the project. But the Government however insisted that the project must go ahead since it is one of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s flagship projects.
In his recent visit to Sierra Leone, the World Bank Country Director for Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Henry Kerali, reiterated that at this point in time, there is no economic justification for the construction of the Mamamah International Airport. He believes that there are still other areas of priority that the Government needs to deal with.
Amongst other things, the Country Director said the World Bank decided not to put fund into the Mamamah International Airport Project because Sierra Leone has presented a comprehensive post-Ebola recovery programme that needs funding at the moment. The World Bank Country Director also questioned the timing of the project and how advantageous will a new airport be when air traffic in Sierra Leone has decreased over the years because of the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the country in 2014, adding that this makes it even harder to justify the airport.
The World Bank Country Director said the President and his Government should give the much vaunted airport project more years when the economic justification can be proved, then the World Bank can consider their proposal. He therefore encouraged the Government of Sierra Leone to look at other options such as making improvements to the Lungi Airport, improve access to Lungi and Port Loko, and thinking about the long-term future of the capital city.
By and large, the World Bank Country Director advised the Government of Sierra Leone to concentrate on the pressing issues at hand and kick the airport issue to the backseat for now.
Be that as it may, the World Bank’s stance on the Mamamah International Airport Project is in the best interest of Sierra Leone and her people given the mouth-watering loan involved and the huge external debts which the country is grappling with despite all our internal debts were cancelled in 2007 through the generosity of the international community before the All People’s Congress (APC) Government acceded to power in September that year.
I agree with the World Bank Country Director that the Government of Sierra Leone should for now forget about the proposed Mamamah International Airport Project and concentrate on pressing issues that would impact positively on the citizenry. For example, though Government is improving on electricity supply in Freetown and the provincial cities, there is still more room for improvement as many parts of the capital are still suffering from outage, while factories in the manufacturing industry do not utilize the low current distributed and supplied by EDSA. So if President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s promise to prioritize electricity in Freetown should be fulfilled, it is now Government should expend more resources on electricity supply for much improvement. But for now, the kind of electricity supply we have in the country cannot in anyway create job opportunities for Sierra Leoneans as envisaged by the APC Government when it formally commissioned the Bumbuna Hydro-Electricity Project in December 2007.
I believe that constructing the proposed Mamamah International Airport with loan from the People’s Republic of China could only be advantageous for the political credential of the governing APC, but it would add more to our already huge external debts which generations yet unborn would be mandated to pay those debts. We already have the Lungi International Airport and as a donor-driven country, Government should be thinking of improving the airport that would not involve huge funding instead of acquiring another huge loan from China to construct a new airport. Had there been an increase in air traffic, there would have been an economic justification for Government to construct the proposed airport, but that has not been the case since the outbreak of the EVD in 2014. Therefore, should Government be obsessed with the proposed Mamamah International Airport Project that only has the propensity to increase our external debts?
Besides, the depreciation of the Leone against the US Dollar is a grave concern to most Sierra Leoneans especially the penury-stricken citizens who earn less than US$2 per day. The continuous depreciation of our currency against the dollar has impacted negatively on the prices of basic commodities including the local foodstuffs. The incessant hike in the prices of both imported and local goods has caused serious hardship in the country given the low earning capacity of most Sierra Leoneans. This is one of the most pressing areas Government should be addressing instead of acquiring more loans for the construction of an airport which we already have.
It is only hoped that Government should face the reality on the ground and heed to the advice of the World Bank Country Director for the good of this country.
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