September 28, 2022

By Ragan M. Conteh

Opposition lawmakers including their leader in parliament, Hon. Chernor Maju Bah, have unveiled several challenges and loopholes in President Julius Maada Bio’s Lungi International Airport Terminal Expansion Agreement.

Making his submissions in the Well of Parliament during the approval of the agreement, Opposition Leader Chernor Maju Bah said he is very much concerned about the accessibility of the airport especially when passengers are still facing the challenge of crossing the sea to access Freetown.

“Let us construct and move on with the airport to where value for money is worth. Our colleagues from ECOWAS are afraid to come to Sierra Leone because of the sea. When they land at the airport, they use to tell us that ‘we are afraid of crossing your sea’ and the constraint of getting comfortable sea transportation is our problem.”

Hon Maju Bah pointed out that, the government through the Ministry of Transport should rethink and try to build a new airport in other parts of the country, adding that no matter where they construct it; it should move this from Lungi to the main land to avoid challenges.

“When I came from Ghana recently I was almost stranded at the airport and the transportation I accessed is a small boat which is a very serious problem for the country if passengers coming to Sierra Leone increase.”

Tourists and other visitors according to Hon. Bah are of key interest when crossing waters. “I am wondering why the Mamamah International Airport construction was abandoned. Government is continuity and if the Bio administration would have completed the construction of the Mamamah Airport it would be their legacy and more tourists visiting the country who are concerned about crossing the sea to Freetown would have appreciated it.”

The Honourable Member from Mile 91, in the Tonkolili District, Hon. Aaron Koroma in his submission pointed out that Members of Parliament “should not approve this agreement because it does not favour the people of Sierra Leone as it only benefits the company.”

According to Hon. Koroma if Parliament approved such an agreement there would be the likelihood of over 500 workers loseing their jobs because the new company that will take over the affairs of the airport will sack all workers at Hotel Management, Civil Aviation and many sections of the Lungi Airport.

Hon. Aaron Koroma also expressed dismay at the failure of Government especially the Ministry of Transport to take Parliament seriously.

“The law provided that any agreement to be undertaken by government should pass through Parliament first before launching, commissioning or further moves. But this was not the case with this agreement we are approving today, as it has already been launched. This is real neglect for Parliament.”

The MP also criticised the move taken by the Ministry of Transport to put the Office of the President Infrastructure Initiative (OPII) as a supervising entity, adding that the OPII is not an Act of Parliament to supervise such an important airport.

He informed that the Ministry of Transport and the Airport Management are the main sector of government that should be bestowed with the responsibility to supervise the management of the new airport terminal.

The Member of Parliament representing Constituency 077, Hon. Abdul Kargbo, said the airport terminal expansion is a laudable venture by government, but is concerned about the agreement adding that travelling from Sierra Leone to South America is a very short journey if the country had viable and worthy international airport that encourages bigger plans to come to Sierra Leone.

Hon. Kargbo said he is very concerned about the security of the current workers and he believes that their security is in a big question mark “because the moment the company commences operations they will have to sack all the current workers.”

According to Hon. Kargbo, having perused the agreement documents, he found out that the possibility of his constituents to benefit from this airport is very slim because the agreement documents bears no Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) from the new company that will take over the management of the Lungi International Airport.

Hon. Charles Conteh from Bombali also reiterated the higher transactional cost of the agreement.

The Deputy Leader of Government Business, Hon Bashiru Silikie, therefore dismissed the submission by Hon. Aaron Koroma of people losing jobs at the airport when the new company would have taken over management of the airport.

According to Hon Bahiru Silikie, the newly constructed airport terminal construction will provide over 2000 jobs, adding that the airport when completed will bring enormous benefits to the people of Sierra Leone.

He said the model used for the agreement is not new as many countries across the continent have the same model and they succeeded, and today they have sophisticated airports with modern technologies.

He urged Members of Parliament especially the opposition parties to approve the agreement as it is good for the development of the country.

The Deputy Speaker in Parliament, Hon. Solomon Sengehpoh Thomas, said the Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) model used for the terminal agreement is not different from the toll gate agreement, but however denied the opposition MPs assertion that people will lose their jobs.

The Deputy Speaker however assured that no one will lose their job but rather the company will recruit an additional 2000 Sierra Leoneans.

However, after a heated debate, the House unanimously approved the $270 million project.

This happened during the approval of the Build Operate and Transfer Agreement for the Construction, Financing and Concession of Freetown International Agreement by and between the Republic of Sierra Leone and Summa Airports (SL) Limited.