Mamamah Airport timing not right!

…Says World Bank Country Director

November 23, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff

The timing for the Mamamah Airport project is utterly wrongly, according to World Bank Country Director for Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Henry Kerali.

Mr. Kerali made a second visit to Sierra Leone last week, after his maiden visit in July, when he assumed his current role at the height of the worst Ebola epidemic in two of the three countries he supervises – Liberia and Sierra Leone.

He reportedly met with President Ernest Bai Koroma and Finance Minister Dr. Kaifala Marah, and congratulated the president on the commitment and resilience of the country to beat Ebola, albeit emphasing vigilance to remain Ebola free.

During a press conference at the Bank’s offices on Howe Street in Freetown, just before he departed for Ghana, Mr. Kerali reiterated that the timing for the Mamamah Airport project was not right as government should focus on other priorities, including the post-Ebola plan. He said he was not oblivious about the need for a new airport, “but the timing is not now, maybe in the future.”

He maintained that “timing will be right when the immediate priorities are addressed – post-Ebola recovery.”

Both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are adamant that government should not press ahead with the ostentatious new airport project in Mamamah, few kilometers outside Freetown.

The IMF, according to Africa Confidential magazine, has referred to the US$315 million airport project as a “vanity project”.

But the government, it seems, is determined to forge ahead, after reportedly securing Chinese support to bankroll the multimillion dollar project, despite a projected 21.5% contraction in the country’s economy this year, as a result of the Ebola outbreak.

Mr. Kerali though said the World Bank was prepared to help Sierra Leone’s post-Ebola recovery plan, adding that they have formulated a rapid response plan for immediate and precise response should Ebola rear its ugly head again. He said the Bank was going forward with its systematic country diagnostic review, which entails holding consultations with government and civil society on a new country framework, with a country partnership framework being the end product, to be financed by a US$200,000 to 300,000 million as part of fiscal 18 three years development blueprint sanctioned by the Bank’s board.

The systematic country diagnostic plan, according Kerali, would review challenges in both the public and private sectors, as it enquires into what the Bank and other development partners could do to help strengthen the economy and identify priorities of intervention to add value to the country’s development agenda.

He said the Bank craves for improved governance, and for transparency and accountability to be deepened in the post-Ebola era. “We’ll support government to improve their system; there is room for improvement,” said Mr. Kerali.

Meanwhile, the Bank has urged the government of Sierra Leone to work assiduously to significantly reduce the cost of internet service and international calls as the country charges the highest tariff in West Africa – US$0.79 cents, compared to Nigeria which charges just US$0.04 cents per minute for calls to the United States of America.

According to the Bank’s Country Manager, Parminder Brar, President pledged in their meeting to leave as one of his legacies “cheap, affordable and accessible internet service to the people of Sierra Leone,” adding they were ready to provide support to government.