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The Proposed Bridge Confirms Political Failure

By Abdul suhood Komeh,

London, UK.

While we are at it, wouldn’t it be great, if the government abdicates its responsibilities further and invite investors for the health service/hospitals, schools, education, the police, the army, and FBC too? They will ‘pay for themselves,’ would they not? None of them work!

The government can even prove its seriousness in ‘moving the country forward’ by inviting tenders for State House and its occupancy. That would make a lot of economic sense for a lot of people. Assured, at the very least, an investor would not just maintain and prolong the heritage of the house, but should just be able to have pipe-borne water, running without an eyesore of a Miller tank atop the historic building.

An important selling point for the proposed new bridge is that the potential owners would maintain it. Well of course, it would be theirs, not Sierra Leone’s. Stop kidding yourselves. ‘Maada Bio dae bil di bridge’, I hear some say? Pulease. I ‘double dare’ him like Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction, to build it with the ‘huge leakages’ he identified during the campaign trail.

The bridge is not the thing. That we are inviting bids is the fundamental point: if we cannot govern ourselves for 58 years, to expect that we have a serious economy to solve our problems is preposterous. If we cannot fully pay for our social services, we do not have a government in the real sense of the word. Therefore no government of Sierra Leone can take credit for building things.

What’s happening now and for some time, is not companies plugging gaps in the economic machinery. They are running the country. Unless there’s a dramatic change, very soon, (we) our people cannot leave and enter Freetown, or our major cities without paying for the privilege of doing so. Bintumani hotel, the sea port and Lungi airport, all have Chinese, French and British companies respectively embedded in their running - their money. We are surrounded by seas we cannot fish or protect; minerals we cannot mine; lands we cannot cultivate. In our place, foreign companies load the greater profits on ships for the pinch we get. This madness is akin to what’s known as Rent Seeking. The Nobel-economist Joseph Stiglitz describes it as when companies and individuals get ‘an income not as a reward for creating wealth but by grabbing a larger share of the wealth that would otherwise have been produced without their effort’.

Maybe, it’s time we stop deluding ourselves. Sierra Leone is now so apparently ensconced in political-capitalism, we do not need an elected government. We can end the charade, and explicitly partition the entire country for interested multi-national companies to run for a profit. The government is telling us capitalists serve the country better than they could.

With the proposal for a new $2 billion bridge to be constructed by private capital, subject to our nominal government accepting their terms, national capitulation is complete. Voluntary forfeiture. Surrender. Laziness has married corruption to derail Sierra Leone’s dream of political and economic independence.

The argument that Port Loko failed to live to its billing as the ‘Blackman’s London’ because it is remote from Freetown, and for a lack of access to it, is laughable; the idea that Lungi is bursting to become a Malaysia and an haven of opportunity and promise, but for a lack of a bridge connecting it to that economically barren of a capital, Freetown, is the quintessential blackmail of our times.

How come Freetown is not already Dubai with glittery reflections on the Atlantic, from pyrotechnics on the Sir Milton Margai Tower? How many people do have an actual job in Freetown? How many of the people sharing the dreamy proposal and images of the bridge are doing so without unalloyed loyalty to Bio and the SLPP?

If you think tourists are put-off visiting Sierra Leone because there is no bridge from the airport to Freetown, A; you have no idea how tourism works; B; you think Sierra Leone is a town in Freetown.

A lot of people have said this. No sensible person is against a bridge. In fact, for those of us who grew up in Freetown, the bridge was part of the folklore of our childhood years: Waiteman (White man) Wan bil Lungi bridge. Dem say any tin wae dem Fen under the wata nar dem yone, but Papa Sheki say no!

That summed it up then and sums it up now. The bridge is unaffordable at this point in our history. It has not come to fruition in the past because Sierra Leone’s economic productivity is either marginal, unsustained, or elusive. Bio knows this, and so does his advisers. No institution will loan Sierra Leone $2 billion. None. The president saying his government‘s infrastructure agenda is based on ‘not burdening the state with huge debts‘ is peak dishonesty. Sadly, he can afford to say that. There’s a swelling group of people who as long as it is not the APC, every move by Bio is scientific breakthrough, a cure for cancer even.

Thus far, Sierra Leone has failed, politically and economically. Continuing to invite investors to solve seemingly impossible problems so they can extort ordinary people proves that. The bridge is not a policy or a ‘new direction’. It is an acceptance of failure, directly descended from the last administration’s Calaba town to Masiaka road, and other arrangements like that.

It is neither my preference, nor my politics. But I’m saying if we are not prepared to make a brand new start, build the country brick by brick, we might as well call a spade a spade, apply the same shortcut, populist logic, with all the other impossibilities like, healthcare and education? If lucky, we can even get rid of the institution of presidency. It is a perambulating waste of time, in my opinion.

A company with a CEO from China please - cheaper, I heard. At least with an hired leader we can negotiate his/her salary, and not have an imperial poser, ripping us off for ten years. Just for giving away taxes and deciding who builds a bridge and any other fanciful projects.