The President’s biggest promise was to renew the country’s infrastructure but criticism of his record is growing, especially on roads and power
Nothing that President Ernest Bai Koroma has promised since coming to power in 2007 has excited as much hope as his pledges to improve the parlous state of the roads and energy supply. He set up the Presidential Energy Emergency Task Force in October 2007 and announced major work on roads nationwide. ‘We will develop a national transportation network to enable the movement of goods and people and thereby facilitate increased investment and economic activity… We will develop and implement projects that focus on the rehabilitation of 2,055 kilometres of feeder roads and of 160 km. of roads in major provincial towns… We will rehabilitate and construct highways between the major urban centres in Sierra Leone as well as highways between Sierra Leone and neighbouring countries….’ he promised when launching his Agenda for Change 2008-2012, the country’s second post-war poverty reduction strategy.Freetown would acquire a ring road which would ‘transform our capital city into the marvel of the sub-region, with circles of coastal roads linking up with hillside roads to give the capital a 21st century road network,’ Koroma said. A ring road might even be built to connect all major towns. It was a characteristically ambitious plan and few of its aims have seen more than patchy success. A decade of civil war had left the country battered, with only intermittent mains electricity capacity in Freetown and a few other towns. Of the 11,300 km. of roads, only 8% were paved. In comparison, 18% of Ghana’s, 12% of Ethiopia’s and 25% of landlocked Niger’s are paved.Donors were sympathetic. Funding for various roads, negotiated by the previous government, was quickly released and Koroma’s Energy Task Force received critical support from the World Bank. Freetown had generating power of only 5 megawatts when Koroma took over. The World Bank lent US$7 million for a 17 MW thermal power station and the government provided $25 mn. but the net gains were negligible after big cost overruns. The commissioning of Bumbuna 50 MW hydro-electric plant at the end of 2009 and the installation of a 10 MW machine paid for by the Japan International Cooperation Agency improved the electricity situation, at least in Freetown, but the benefit was short-lived (AC Vol 53 No 10). Distribution systems are in disrepair and Freetown still has frequent power cuts. For months in the dry season this year, the major towns of Bo and Kenema had no electricity. Koroma’s hometown of Makeni, however, has not seen any major blackout this year, critics claim.
Ambitions Koroma appointed a trusted old friend from his home Bombali district, Alimamy Petito Koroma (no relation), to the powerful position of Minister of Works, Housing and Infrastructure. He is in charge of implementing the ambitious plans. Encouraged by heading a Ministry with a budget of tens of millions, Alimamy Koroma soon developed ambitions of his own, including for the presidency. This evidently got in he way of carrying out Koroma’s mandate. On 19 October, President Koroma issued a terse statement noting that after a presidential review of ‘our infrastructural projects’ he was left ‘with the conclusion that the Ministry of Works, Housing and Infrastructure, and the Sierra Leone Roads Authority have not proved themselves equal to the task of managing the implementation of the road projects.’ Alimamy Koroma and Munda Rogers, who had been Director General of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority since before Koroma took over, were sacked.Their removal followed a protest by an amorphous collection of energetic civil society groups, which had issued three ultimatums urging Koroma to fire the Works Minister for ‘lack of performance’ as well as Joseph Sam Sesay, the Minister of Agriculture, whom they deemed to have also failed in his promise to make the country food-secure. He may have been spared because his portfolio is not as high-profile as Works and Housing.The continuing poor state of the roads strikes a visitor. The road from the International Airport at Lungi to Tagrin, site of the ferry across the bay to Freetown proper, are almost impassable, with potholes like craters. Perfunctory work started only in early November on Aberdeen Road in Freetown, the principal road for the chief business and tourist hotels, which is also in poor condition. Flagship road works, such as on Wilkinson Road, widened at a cost of $24 mn. ($3.75 mn. per kilometre), are poorly finished and the road is prone to flooding during the rains.Infrastructure became even more of a issue when, on 22 February 2013, the strategic Mabang Bridge, which carried the road to Guinea across the River Ribi and for whose reconstruction funding of $6 mn. had been secured from the European Union, collapsed, killing 34 people. Then in August, the colonial-era King Jimmy Bridge in the heart of Freetown collapsed, killing at least seven people.Koroma, who prides himself on being a ‘business president’, remains undaunted and is sticking to his high ambitions. In July, he visited the China Kingho Energy Group and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Beijing government to build a power plant, a transport and logistics facility, and a 250 km. railway from the African Minerals iron-ore site in Magburaka in the north to the coastal town of Sulima in the south, where offshore oil in commercial quantity has been discovered (AC Vol 53 No 23).
The estimated cost is $1.74 billion.Even though there was only uneven progress in Koroma’s Agenda for Change, the new version launched early this year, the Agenda for Prosperity (2013-2018), aspires to make Sierra Leone ‘an inclusive, green, middle-income country’ with ‘a modern and well developed infrastructure with reliable energy supplies’ by 2035. Among the goals are a new, $481.30 mn. airport and city by 2017 (which donors have committed to fund) and a $540.32 mn. programme of road improvement (which currently suffers a $192.45 mn. funding gap). The plan envisages $439 mn. being spent on improving electricity supplies, although the funding gap here is $370.27 mn.Questions were raised about the level of the government’s commitment to the airport, and a new ‘airport city’, when in November it appointed Morlai Buya-Kamara as Director of the new project at the Transport and Aviation Ministry. He was then Deputy Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission, which has a dismal record. It has brought a number of weak prosecutions which have either resulted in not guilty verdicts or have been thrown out by judges because the evidence presented did not support the charges. Many blame the Commissioner, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara. The ACC has been concentrating on minnows, not sharks, say critics. Last December, it secured the conviction of a school teacher, Foday Khalil Sheriff, for soliciting and accepting 5,000 leones ($1.2) from his pupils. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to three years in prison or a Le30 mn. fine ($7,000).It seems that the more serious the case, the less likely a successful prosecution. On 10 October, the ACC lost a case it had brought against the former Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kisito Sheku Daoh, and 22 officials of the National Health Sector Support Project in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. They were accused of misappropriating $523,303 of funds received from the GAVI Alliance (formerly Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) whose Board includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (AC Vol 54 No 6). Yet the case for the prosecution was so feeble that the Ugandan Justice John Bosco Katutsi, presiding, chided the ACC for unprofessional investigation and shoddy charges as he threw the case out of court. One former Principal Health Economist in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Michael Mathew Amara, however, was convicted and fined Le350 mn. or three years’ imprisonment.The GAVI Alliance’s suspension of $4.2 mn. in grants to the Sierra Leonean government is still in force; it channels other funds through other programmes and non-governmental organisations. The malaise at the heart of the public administration has also been amply detailed by the report of the Auditor General, Lara Taylor-Pearce, into public finances for 2011 (AC Vol 54 Nos 6 & 19). Her next report, due in early December, we understand, is awaited with some trepidation. An August 2012 report severely criticised the conduct of the anti-malaria campaign, though health care is something the government has boasted about in the past.A new challenge came this month when the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation, a foreign aid agency dedicated to reducing poverty through ‘economic freedom’, advancing good governance and weeding out corruption, announced that Sierra Leone, which had applied to join its ‘compact’, had failed to ‘control corruption,’ one of its key governance requirements. On its website, the MCC says it had 28 ‘compacts’ worth more than $9.6 bn. with developing countries all over the world, including in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia. It has ‘threshold agreements’ with some of those plus Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé e Príncipe and Uganda. It is ‘working toward developing’ one with Sierra Leone, which hoped to get $250-$350 mn. in funding. The MCC published a ‘scorecard’ on Sierra Leone’s achievement of minimal goals to qualify it for the programme. In addition to ‘control of corruption’, it failed on natural resource protection, primary education expenditure and health expenditure, including immunisation rates and child health. It passed the MCC tests on political rights, civil liberties, freedom of information and rule of law because it had passed a Freedom of Information Act, the eleventh in Africa. The MCC meets on 5 December to make a final decision.