7 March 2019

Sierra Leone: The Turkish, Via Boat They Arrived, a Nation Shouts 'Light Done Kam'

opinion

At the commissioning in June, 2009, of the Regent Primary Substation and the 11kV/33kV Transmission Line, constructed through the Japanese Grant Project for Urgent Improvement of Electricity Power Supply systems, former President Koroma spoke of how convinced he was, that "the multiplier effect of adequate and reliable energy will impact on all sectors of the country and revitalize the economy and improve the standard of living of our people." There was the urgent need to also power our economic expansion without impairing the environment. What the government did was to fully commit itself to harnessing the vast hydro-electric potential in our rivers and waterways, as well as develop biofuels and solar energy. Then concrete actions were taken; by 2010, there was the installation of a 10MW thermal plant at Kingtom, boosting supply to 60MW. By 2011, the wattage was raised to 76.5MW with the installation of the 16.5MW plant at Blackhall Road, east of Freetown.

The Chinese at a given point provided the country with a soft loan which enabled government to embark on the construction works for Mini-hydro projects at Bankasoka (2MW), Charlotte (3MW) and Makalie (170Kw). We also saw the installation of over 8,000 solar street lights across the country. By September 2007, Freetown was a dark city, with electricity supply to the city being at 5MW. But then, government engaged the services of an independent power provider, as a short term emergency measure, to provide electricity to Freetown. Within the first three months in office, things were no longer the same. There also was the rehabilitation of the Bo/Kenema Power Station thermal plants eventually expanding power generation from 2 to 5 MW. The country also initiated a comprehensive Rural Energy Programme geared towards electrification of rural village communal facilities. There also was the introduction of the solar energy through the Barefoot Solar Women Engineers.

By 2012, through the country's development roadmap, the Agenda for Prosperity, strategies were outlined that were to help mitigate the challenges faced within the energy sector. The A4P roadmap had to identify and explore other avenues for effective hydroelectricity power potentials. It also increased investment in clean energy by way of harnessing solar power. One other key component continued in the A4P growth trajectory was encouraging Public Private Partnership in the provision of energy and increasing coverage and regularity of power supply with the major cities. So, through a PPP arrangement, therefore, by January, 2018, government contracted Karpowership to "supply 30 MW of power to Freetown for duration of 5 years" and by the time Henry Macauley was leaving as energy minister, the ship was already in the country, with progress to connect to the national grid. Karpowership is a member of the Karadeniz Energy Group based in Istanbul, Turkey.

The decision by the Koroma led administration government was condemned by the then Opposition SLPP. But being in governance is moderately an intriguing scenario. Just few weeks in government, things changed, when we were told of a two-year Utility Grid Infrastructure and Electricity Supply Agreement between the Ministry of Energy and Karpowership, for the generation of 30MW of electricity. Salone, an interesting country; one that could get so political on issues, that you will be made to think, when you wake up the next day, all you see, hear, drink, and even ride is nothing but political partisan interest! Who would ever think this boat, brought by the Koroma administration and criticized initially by the Opposition, could survive the test of times in our motherland? Well, another one just arrived and am told, it is here to serve the eastern part of the capital. Fascinating, isn't it? But who doesn't want light for even the bible spoke highly of the beauty having light, for we are told, when God created the world and realized there was darkness, he had to command for there to be light, and there was light. So, light indeed 'done kam' and let it keep coming. It is only hopeful, that this new arrangement will be reflected in villages in the Western Area Rural District.

Come to think of it, this energy ship issue and the criticism it got first made me think of the buses from China. By 2015, March, Sierra Leone's Ministry of Transport and Aviation was finalizing arrangement for the shipment of 100 buses into the country following the signing of a contract between the ministry and China Poly Group Corporation for the supply of the said buses in 2014. This subsequently became a political issue. It appeared at the time, that never in our history would we deal with the Chinese especially in a post Ernest Koroma presidency. Well, by August-September, 2018, Minister Kabineh Kallon was signing an agreement with a Chinese company, Golden Dragon for the supply of two hundred buses to Sierra Leone!

So, forget the partisan slant to some issues of national interest sometimes, watch and just smile, pretend, if you can, not to have heard. What should be refreshing is, we are all moving ahead, progressing, gradually and building on the foundation left behind by, in actually sense, the former government. Governance is about delivery of goods and continuity. It took President Kabba to get us those institutional structures for us to build on our democratic credentials. When President Koroma came, he worked on sustaining those institutions- the NRA, IMC, Nacsa, Nassit, etc etc. And under his watch, they performed exemplary well. At one point, through NRA, we were even able to ensure a paradigm shift from prodigiously depending on donors to being able to fund our own development. We had to focus on investments and reforms in the key strategic sectors critical to unlocking the full productive potential of our economy. And when this administration took over, it met a beautiful platform to be able to continue with our growth processes. So, let's ride on and on.

So, let the Power ships come so we can sustain our growth. Few questions though: What is government's plan for thermal energy? How sustainable would this new arrangement be? How would it be used to ensure, "at least five villages and two towns in each district join the national grid or are connected off-grid on standalone solar or mini-hydro schemes", as contained in the New Direction manifesto? The same document talked about "persistent reports of poor procurement practices with contracts often going to party cronies who have limited capacity and knowledge", specifically referring to the previous administration. Along the need for a transparent process, can the public know the current arrangement for this new ship and at what cost will it be operating? By way of suggesting, it would be good for the government to go back to its manifesto and look at those specific action plans it committed itself to.

With this, I would say, good that we have got another boat, mainly for Freetown east. Good decision! Great also, that it was actually started by the then government. At the end, the country, not just a political party, stands to benefit.

John Baimba Sesay -M.A,B.A(Hons)

Sierra Leone

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