Wednesday, April 26, 2017 5:47 pm
Since the war broke out in the early 90 with its devastating effects on the economy, domestic flights in Sierra Leone were completely halted. There is now a renewal hope as efforts are now under way for resumption of domestic flight operations. Already, International flight operators are back, after a pull – out as a result of the Ebola crisis that ended in March 2016. With a new Airport on the main land at the conception stage, coupled with innovative stages at the Sea Port, the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Leonard Logus Balogun – Koroma boasts of a thriving and robust transport sector, as the country celebrates 56th Independence Anniversary. He spoke to Abubakar Hashim
Q: How is the Transport sector as the country marks 56 this April?
The Transport sector is the heart beat of the Sierra Leonean economy and any economy in the world. It drives trade, tourism, agriculture particularly marketing of agricultural products, infrastructural development and the movement of people by air, sea and land.
By air, we have witnessed an increase in flight operations since the end of Ebola. Many flight operators pulled out during Ebola but they are back. KLM that stopped operations since 1991 is back. Air Mauritania is coming back. Medview is here and we are expecting Air Peace to commence the Banjul, Dakar and Conakry routes. We are also talking with Emirates and Turkish Air lines.
We are in discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in relation with our new proposed International Airport on the main land at Mamamah in the east of Freetown. There are currently some hurdles in relation to debt sustainability that we hope to resolve. It will come with new infrastructure for the city.
In relation to the Sea Port, Bollore, a private operator will start a 120 million dollar container terminal expansion. It will provide a container trans-shipment hub for West Africa and South America. Recently, Nectar, another private operator at the ports, donated two fire engines to strengthen the fire department at the Sierra Leone Port Authority. Dangote has commenced operations at the Port. There is now availability of cement in the market and stability of prices.
Bollore assisted us with the dredging of the Ferry Terminals at Kissy and Targrin. This was a major problem as ferries get stuck. But it is now resolved. We have also rehabilitated two ferries through the World Bank that is the Mahera and MV Freetown, with increased number of runs. The World Bank has also provided funds for the rehabilitation of MV Bai Bureh otherwise called the NASSIT Ferry. It will be in service in the next two to three months from government wharf.
In relation to the road transport sector, a lot has been done. We have provided 100 buses, now two years in service, contrary to speculation for two months in service. We have plans to bring in 100 buses. So the transport sector has witnessed remarkable drive as we celebrate 56 this April.
Mr. Minister, in relation to the new Air Port on the mainland at Mamamah you just mentioned, some say it’s not economically viable. Others say the Chinese have pulled out?
No. It not true. They have not pulled out. Discussions are on-going. They are very much interested. As earlier mentioned, we have issues with the IMF as they have expressed some reservations in relation to debt sustainability. But we have sorted it out. It is a four-year project. It will either be a staggered or concessional loan or a grant or a build, operate and transfer (BOT) agreement.
What are presently your challenges in the transport sector?
Like any other sector, we do have some challenges. We are operating in a volatile
economic environment where our exportable commodities are externally determined. The fall in iron ore, our prime export is a typical example. Another challenge is that we are in a global economic environment, where effects in the transport sector globally affects us in Sierra Leone. Other challenges could be natural catastrophes like the recent Ebola crisis that witnessed a massive pull – out of airline operators.