Sierra Leone’s Minister of Energy, Alhaji Kanja Sesay, has acknowledged the progress made so far in the country’s struggling energy sector but highlighted ‘politically motivated vandalism and the rising cost of fuel’ as two key challenges undermining sustainable energy supply across the small West African country.

“Wicked and politically motivated vandalism has affected the sustainability and growth of the energy sector, lack of capital for the maintenance of the fuel outlets is another challenge, also the rising fuel cost has hurt the work of the Electricity Distribution and Supply Agency (EDSA),” Kanja Sesay lamented.

The utility, he continued, is still hampered by challenges around metering and electricity theft through illegal or multiple connections, incorrect tariffs, and continuous instances of wicked and politically motivated vandalism and theft across the country.

Speaking at the Energy Sector Round Table opening session on 3rd October 2022 at New Brookfields Hotel in Freetown, Kanja noted that in the past few years the energy demand has risen nationwide, especially in the capital city of Freetown as new communities or settlements continue to emerge. Therefore, he believes that substantial investment is essential to the transformation of the energy sector with private partnership coming in handy to help eliminate the burden on the government’s limited finances.

The Energy minister further noted that although energy financing continues to take a toll on the national budget the increase in revenue from EDSA in the last two months creates room for optimism. Sales of electricity increased from Le420.83 Billion in 2018 to Le497.35 Billion in 2021, while as of August 2022 collections stand at Le336.48 Billion with an expected average collection of Le650.00 Billion by end of 2022.

Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Energy, its constituent agencies Energy Generation and Transmission Company (EGTC), Electricity Distribution and Supply Agency (EDSA), Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC); The World Bank Group, European Union, The Japanese International Corporation Agency (JICA) and other development partners are participating in the Energy Sector Round Table on 3rd and 4th October 2022.

The theme for the two-day engagement, which brought together several development partners and energy sector stakeholders to exchange views and identify achievements and challenges in pathing the way forward for the energy sector, is ‘Charting a Path to Sustainable Energy for All

World Bank Country Director, Pierre Laporte, said access to clean and reliable energy is at the nucleus of every nation’s human capital development. In this regard, considering the Bank’s standing partnership with Sierra Leone, he said they are fully committed to supporting the government’s agenda in the energy sector.

This would include immediate and long-term investment in the sector including assistance in building capacity in key institutions. He called on all development partners to align their support to ensure development in the energy sector.

Country Director of the Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC), Steve Grudda, expressed MCC’s delight at being part of the energy round table event. He said his institution is willing and ready to collaborate with the government and all other stakeholders to design a compact that will benefit everyone. This, he said, they will do with energy in mind.

“MCC’s investment management committee is in full support of all of this. If we achieve this [MCC Compact], it will be one of the fastest compact development processes. I am delighted to report that we are making good progress,” Grudda said.

Minister of Finance, Dennis Vandi, noted that even though Sierra Leone is at the bottom of the energy ranking in Africa, the sector has made huge progress with hundreds of households benefiting from various energy projects including mini-grids and most recently the Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea (CLSG) electricity networks interconnection project which involves the construction of a 1,357-km-long double circuit high voltage (225 kV) line to connect the national networks of the four countries, among others.

Vandi confirmed that during the period 2018 his ministry has disbursed about 1.2 billion Leones to the sector and provided over 31 million dollars as debt service in the sector between 2018 to 2021, whilst ensuring that some areas in Kailahun, Moyamba, and Kambia have gone for 4 decades without electricity, get access to the power supply.

“The truth is the sector continues to challenge the fiscal space so we must commit to investing in the energy sector. We shall commit to establishing an improved policy framework in the sector with 13 million dollars anticipated support from the World Bank and a 1.25 million dollars promised by the Japanese Government to repair machines at Kingtom and other areas; we believe that these interventions among many others from our partners would serve as a stimulus for improving the gap in the energy sector,” Dennis Vandi said.

Giving the keynote address, President Julius Maada Bio noted that energy is the engine that powers economies across the world, adding that the more energy economies had the more prosperous their people are. He emphasized that the lack of energy is Africa’s most critical challenge.

“In Sierra Leone, access to electricity remains a challenge in terms of reliability and affordability. Our sustainable economic growth and prosperity depend on solving the energy crisis. It will require a more significant commitment than ever before, for our present and future depend on it.

“Despite rising global energy prices, we must continue our efforts to increase energy access to communities and productive sectors of our economy in the short, medium, and long term. We should also ensure that existing and future energy sources are reliable, efficient, affordable, and sustainable for our homes, businesses, industries, schools, and hospitals,” President Bio said.

The President said he would remain optimistic that despite global and local challenges, with close partnership with development partners and the private sector, his government has made significant strides in the energy sector. He urged stakeholders to deliberate on and provide answers that seek to address the issues of supply, availability, reliability, affordability, financing, and investment in the energy sector.

This would include the financing of the energy sector; regional power sector integration; energy transition; the development of the Millennium Challenge Compact following a successful Threshold Programme; renewable energy mini-grids as an alternative approach to energy access; rural tariffs; and coordinated response to reliable and affordable energy access.