Saturday, September 19, 2020 1:33 pm
Dr. John Tambi is the chairman of the Presidential Infrastructure Initiative Program, conceived by President Bio to reposition the entire infrastructural landscape of the country. Dr.Tambi has earned a worldwide reputation in multi sectoral engagements in various countries. In this interview, he spoke to ABUBAKAR HASHIM on a new infrastructural game plan amidst covid-19 and other topical issues
Could you give an overview of the current infrastructural outlook on-going in the country, specifically the Lungi Bridge, the main infrastructural pillar of the Bio Government, in view of the current Covid pandemic on-going?
Before I answer that important question, let me clarify the mandate of this office. This office was created in 2018 to plan, design and implement strategic and transformative infrastructure projects that cut across all sectors. Most importantly, these projects will be implemented using non-traditional financing mechanism. In essence, they will be implementing without borrowing or adding any debt burden on the government, and as expeditiously as possible. This is why the option of Build Operate and Transfer (BOT), and private sector engagement is very important for us. The Lungi Bridge, you mentioned, is one of the strategic infrastructure projects, with 6 to 7 supporting infrastructure projects aligned to it. For example, the bridge does not only connect Freetown to the airport alone. It is a bridge that connects two critical economic regions of the country, Freetown and Port Loko district, where the airport is located.
In this regard, there are plans to build a new airport terminal with all the accompanying ancillary facilities of a modern airport. Alongside, there will be a new Lungi financial city, a new economic free – trade zone. We’ve commenced the feasibility studies on the Freetown side, there will be a water front development, a new coastal road, a new real estate development, for the emergence of a new city, etc.,
So all these other projects compliment and support the Lungi Bridge, thus enhancing its bankability and attractiveness to the private sector.
The other project that people don’t know about is a new sea port in the south of the country. We’ve done the pre-feasibility study, phase 1, with a new free trade zone, a logistic hub, including a railway, to connect to neighboring Liberia, Guinea, the mining sectors and the rest of the country.
There is also a project to transform Bonthe Island into a tourist destination. We also have plans to develop an industrial hub, particularly in the agro sector.
There will also be a real estate development, including office campuses in every district of the country. Currently, we are at the stage of short listing the consultants to do the feasibility studies. All the districts will have office campuses, to decentralize government administration and operational activities. It will facilitate a seamless portal to do business with government, thereby enhancing efficiency and productivity.
In these settings, for example, there will be no need to come to Freetown to get a new passport. These campuses will provide the infrastructure that will allow the MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) to have the requisite amenities readily available at all district levels.
So, the Lungi Bridge is just one aspect of our infrastructural game plan – to transform Sierra Leone radically through infrastructure development in the shortest possible time. This Office will soon start nationwide traffic survey and study to construct pedestrian bridges and install traffic lights and street lights. We are not doing this alone but working with the Ministry of Transport and Aviation as well as the Sierra Leone Road Transport Authority (SLRTA). Hopefully, by the grace of God, before the end of next year, you will start seeing traffic lights, street lights and pedestrian bridges in some part of the city. These are some of the projects we are working on, but frankly we don’t see any reason why we should be shouting about them or blowing our own horn. We believe that as engineers or technical people, our work should speak for itself and for us. We have just submitted our report detailing all our achievements from November 2018 to December 2019. We have been able to save the government approximately $50 million (Fifty million US dollars) based on the work we have done so far. I believe that this Office (OPII), although it is new, is a great value addition to the government, and I am very proud of my team and the work that we are doing.
African companies, like Julius Berger, are keenly eyeing the Lungi bridge. Will there be an air of opportunity for African Construction Companies with capacities to perform this contract in Sierra Leone?
Yes, indeed. In fact, in 2019, we invited prospective investors and developers from African countries to participate in some of our infrastructure development projects, including the Lungi Bridge. We’ve past that stage now as far as the Lungi Bridge is concerned. What we did 2019 was to conduct the feasibility phase 1. In technical terms, it was really pre-feasibility. This study was done by us, Sierra Leonean engineers and technical experts and two other African consultants. In essence for the first time since 1961, a team of Sierra Leonean and other Africans did the first phase feasibility study for the Lungi Bridge. Mind you there have been about four other studies for this bridge before, all done by non- Sierra Leoneans. As I speak, we have gone into an advanced stage with one of our developers. Interestingly this western developer, validated our study and embraced our bridge design concept. We have now concretized the design concept for the bridge, the construction phasing scenario and the ball-park construction cost. We are now ready for the detailed feasibility study, detailed design and then construction.
One of the two developers for the Lungi Bridge that we hope will take us to construction is African or at least the arranger or project sponsor is African. We have a group of African /European investors and developers. So we encourage African developers to be part of the process. By the grace of God, I believe that before the end of this year corona virus notwithstanding, we should be able to commence construction or at least the pre-construction activities. We have to admit that corona virus has really affected all of us particularly with the closure of the airport. Yes, the window has always been opened to African developers and it is still open but we should not restrict it to the Lungi Bridge alone. If we as Africans have not learnt any lesson during this period, Covid 19 has taught us that as Africans we have to depend on ourselves and trade among ourselves so that we can transform our continent.
One of the burning challenges of African countries is how to raise income above population growth. As part of Bio’s economic management team, how can it be achieved to reduce poverty and inequality in the country?
Africa has long been dependent on assistance from outside. This mindset has to change. In 2014, the overseas development aid to Africa was about $50 Billion, but the formal remittances by diaspora Africans into the continent was over $60 Billion. Mind you, we are only talking about official remittances, you and I know that most remittances to Africa are via unofficial channels. Therefore, if you quantify these unofficial channels, we are talking about at least twice that amount ($120Billion) conservatively. What am I saying, I am saying that; this shows that Africans can assist each other more than what we get from outsiders (East or the West). The only challenge is how to structure these inflows, so that they translate into developments and job creation opportunities, rather than just enriching private individuals.
You worked in several African countries, including Nigeria at high level capacities. Give us s flavor of your upbringing and your resume.
It’s very difficult to ask someone to talk about himself. What I can say is that I believe in the African continent. I believe in the capacity and resilience of the African people. Fortunately, there are a lot of Africans, perhaps much better than me, but do not have the opportunity to go through the experiences that some of us had gone through.