The perennial energy problems have continued to rock the capital, Freetown, and Sierra Leone for inept reasons. As a journalist who is following the social construct and the status quo of plenty institutions in Sierra Leone, Elkass Sannoh makes an attempt to lift the veils to uncover some of the shady deals bedeviling electricity supply in the country. This article is reproduced on popular demands.
“We are running at a huge deficit because of the huge money being expended to supply electricity in Freetown at all costs. We have no option no matter the risk. In fact one of our thermal plants-Nigatta-that supplies 4.5 megawatt at Kingtom is not working and Watsilla at Blackhall road station only supplies 7.5 megawatt,” said one of the EGTC Managers who prefer to be anonymous.
He continued: “The truth is, Bumbuna hydroelectric project currently supplies 18 megawatt added to the one supplies by EDSA which amounts to almost 30 megawatts. Out of the two turbines at Bumbuna, only one is currently working and the only person to take responsibility is the Italian company-Salini. Stop the lies, Bumbuna is not in the hands of the Government of Sierra Leone and they are not supplying the projected megawatt but the appropriate person to answer is Ambassador Henry Macaulay-the Minister of Energy and Power. He will give reasons for the electricity outages and tell the public why the Italian company has not handed over the Bumbuna project to the Sierra Leone Government.”
He emphatically told the Voiceless Sierra Leoneans that the Bumbuna phase one project was projected to supply 50 megawatts whilst phase two at 400 megawatts but this, for unknown reason/s, has not been achieved with the phase one irrespective of billions of Leones doled out for sustainable electricity supply.
“My guess is, President Koroma intends to leave office with the electricity supply he has been commended for,” Abibatu Kargbo said jokingly. “For four days now, at Savage Square, we have not been getting EDSA electricity which is why I said, I am tired with the ruling APC and their Agenda for Blackout.”
“We are lucky, EDSA light comes at 12 midnight and immediately you are up from bed for Suba (early morning) prayer there will be no light,” said Ibrahim Turay a resident of Brookfields. “During the SLPP era, we were in complete blackout; hence late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was described as Kabbah Tiger. President Koroma promised electricity at the expense of the country’s fragile economy and we are being hard hit by this unwise decision. You don’t force development without putting in place the necessary structures.”
On 14th December, Journalist Patrick Salia of Star Radio posted his dissatisfaction on facebook on the current blackout in his Dwarzak community.
In a phone interview with the Deputy Government Spokesman-Cornelius Deveaux, he queried in a very impolite tone: “Who said that there is a public outcry for rampant blackout?” He went further to decry those who grumbled of not having electricity and called their complaints as lies. The Deputy Minister of Information and Communication who did not bother to give reasons and solutions for the current blackout said he wants to see one person who will say he/she is not enjoying the current electricity flow. As he continues to pose a very harsh defense, he cut off the telephone interview in order to dodge the question.
According to Dr. Abdul Rahim Jalloh who was explaining the successes, challenges and projections of the Bumbuna project, “the Bumbuna hydroelectric project was commissioned by President Ernest Bai Koroma on 6th November, 2009 with a full reservoir and plant capable of generating 50 megawatt of electricity. The Bumbuna dam has not been able to supply all the power generated from its plant to a good part of the country.”
He said what is now needed for Freetown to get electricity 24 hours a day is about 100 megawatts, adding that with Bumbuna phase II, the output will increase by 350 megawatts thereby addressing the problem of electricity supply in the country.
Undoubtedly, when the Bumbuna hydroelectric switch was turned on, there was wide jubilation from State House to every corner of Freetown and its environs to tell us that President Koroma’s promise has been fulfilled. Like the road construction, all the Ministers then had nothing meaningful to tell journalists apart from “we have constructed roads and provided electricity supply.” The authoritative question is: at what expense?
After a year of full swing, parts of Freetown went into blackout. Sadly though, Bumbuna township which is the host community only got power supply four years later when Makeni started enjoying the facility. The Minister of Energy and Power must cease to give empty promises; instead he must provide the leadership necessary to explain in detail how to overcome the growing shortcomings. We do not expect President Koroma to do this!
In providing a brief background to the most misconstrued Bumbuna hydroelectric project, let it be known that this dam was identified in 1971 during the tenure of President Siaka Stevens and construction began in 1975. Work was halted in May 1997, about 85% completed, due to the Sierra Leone civil war, and did not resume until 2005. The dam’s US$327 million cost was provided by the African Development Bank.
Since President Koroma’s ascendancy to power-2007 to date, millions of United States Dollars have been spent by the World Bank for the sustainability of the Bumbuna phase one project. Also, as recent as December this year, Sierra Leone stands to benefit funding support from the World Bank -59.57 Million United States Dollars-to increase electricity supply and the extension of the Bumbuna hydroelectric project. With all these donor support, what is the status of electricity supply in Sierra Leone especially during this period?
In May 2011, the government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement with US-based Joule Africa to undertake the plant’s second phase development. The project requires an investment of $750m. Ironically, it was expected to be completed by 2017 and since 2011, we only read of the launch of its partnership with Endeavor Energy (December 2017), a privately held international independent power project company focused on developing and investing in power generation facilities in Africa. Why the delay since 2011? Information gathered reveal that 75% of the second phase of the plant will be financed by debt and the rest by equity. This will be likened to the 27 years toll road agreement. No wonder we continue to wallow in debts even though President Koroma inherited a debt free Sierra Leone.
In the 21st century citizens should not beg for electricity as it is the responsibility of any elected Government to provide those basic social services. It is out of insanity that a father brags for providing daily meals for his children and expects the children to make a hell out of the father’s responsibility. What a shame!
There is no doubt that erratic electricity supply has even affected development and expansion of our job market. Instead of the Government accepting those challenges and act on concerns raised by the public, some stooges and political sycophants are saying that “we are misusing the constant electricity flow.” This is the highest level of unpatriotism and a betrayal to those who voted us because we promised to deliver. No matter how it could be fancifully interpreted but a deficient power infrastructure dampens economic growth.
Ghana which is far more advanced with better electricity infrastructure recently overhauls the entire electricity project after the “Dumsor Dumsor national strike.” The Government permitted a peaceful strike action led by the opposition. Interestingly, those who voted in the past Government joined the rally to make their grievance known. The police provided security for the protesters where as in Sierra Leone the police diligently serve their political godfathers. This is not democracy and yet the Sierra Leone Police claims to be a professional force for good.
Let me recommend that the Government, through its experts, should conduct detailed feasibility studies to avoid the problems plaguing the first phase of the power plant. The second phase is expected to provide year-round supply of power to the region and also attract commercial and industrial investments. If this is done, the reported poor management that bedeviled the success of the phase one would not be rolled over to phase two. This is the Pen of The Voiceless Sierra Leoneans with Elkass Sannoh.