President Dr Julius Maada Bio has addressed one of the largest business fora organised by the United Nations, UN, Economic Commission for Africa, ECA, highlighting investment opportunities in Sierra Leone’s promising transport sector.
Established by the Economic and Social Council in 1958 as one of UN’s five regional commissions, ECA’s mandate is to promote the economic and social development of its 45 member states, foster intra-regional integration, and promote international cooperation for Africa’s development. This year’s theme is
“Investing in multimodal transport to optimize the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade: A focus on air transport and tourism”.
“…how do we re-centre our economic growth strategies and priorities to include the development of transportation infrastructure, which is critical for attracting investment, and critical too for trade, sustained growth, and economic development?
“In essence, I assert as a general premise that ships, boats, barges, trains, planes, and automobiles are all central to developing productive sectors of the economy and for supporting economic development, overall. The need to overhaul or develop new maritime ports, riverain waterways, airports, roads, and rail networks is critical.
“We, therefore, need financing streams to either revamp existing transportation infrastructure or develop new ones,” he asserted.
In that keynote address, the President further noted that there was no doubt they as leaders had agreed to boost intra-African trade, take in larger volumes of investment capital, expand countries’ economic productivity, and participate fully in the global market.
“So, Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, how do we get beyond these? First, the ratification and implementation of intra-African agreements that facilitate trade and economic development is important because it improves connectivity and reduces costs.
“Following the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA, Sierra Leone was one of the first states to take the proactive step of drafting and validating a new National Trade Strategy, developed with the support of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. This was informed by 200 consultations undertaken with various stakeholders in-country, from the public sector (such as the ministries responsible for gender affairs), private sector associations, development partners, and think tanks,” he said.
He, however, disclosed that beyond those policies his government was now looking for opportunities and possibilities, adding that a key part of their domestication plan included a coordination meeting that helped their partners align investments and efforts with the activities outlined in the strategy’s action plan.
President Bio noted that as a result of implementing the AfCFTA, Sierra Leone was also working with ECA to update its industrialisation policy and strategy on special economic zones in line with the expected structural transformation of the country’s economy.
“…by acceding to Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) Sierra Leone has adopted liberal principles in the negotiation of air service agreements with a number of African states by removing restrictions and barriers on capacity, tariffs, and ownership control.
“Sierra Leone has also grappled head-on with challenges in the aviation industry. We are implementing urgent steps to improve ICAO safety oversight. We can maximise investor awareness of the potential market we offer by improving data collection and research on air freight volumes and air-passenger experience.
“Currently, we are working with a private Turkish company to improve airport infrastructure at the Lungi International Airport. We are constructing a modern terminal building with state-of-the-art facilities,” he said.
His Excellency further stated that part of Sierra Leone’s development strategy was to build a bridge from the current airport area in Lungi, northwest, to the capital city, Freetown.
“Currently, a mix of ferry and private boats move people and goods across. The economic and other benefits of a bridge that joins the two landmasses are immense. But there is a struggle mobilising exclusively private capital to finance such a large venture. This is where we think multilateral institutions like the World Bank can come in with products that de-risk such large capital investments in transportation infrastructure thus making them more attractive,” he said.
He closed by thanking UNECA for the invitation and for its continued support to the Government and people of Sierra Leone, assuring the forum that the opportunities for new transportation sector infrastructure development were many and the prospects for making decent returns on investments were huge.