At a time when African leaders are scrambling for Chinese loans and signing deals whose terms they are not bold enough to reveal, the president of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio has scrapped a deal signed by his predecessor which was an agreement with China to fund the construction of an airport billed to cost about $318m and would last for 4 years.
His reasons are simple! In a letter addressed through the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, the presidency said:
After serious consideration and due diligence, it is government’s view that [it] is uneconomical to proceed with the construction of a new airport when the existing one is grossly under-utilized.”
The proposed Mamamah International Airport, named after its host community, was to be constructed by the China Railway Seventh Group,with funding from China Exim Bank and work planned to last for four years.
The former President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma presided over the ground-breaking ceremony in March this year while he was campaigning for the general elections.
The project drew huge criticism from international lending Institutions like the World bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other International Observers who claimed that the airport project was an unnecessary economic burden on the West African country.
According to the Observers, the country had more important priorities than building a new airport, which would increase its debt burden. An assertion which many citizens agreed to.
Paying no attention to the critics, Koroma hailed his development achievements, noting that the airport was one of three major projects his government was implementing with the aim of transforming Sierra Leone to a Middle Income state by 2035.
The airport was one of three major projects the Koroma-administration intended to be his legacy. The other two projects are the just-concluded port expansion and the planned bridging of the estuary that separates Freetown, from Lungi.
Speaking to the BBC, Aviation Minister Kabineh Kallon said the project, which was due to have been completed in 2022, wasn't necessary and its current international airport would be renovated instead.
He said the current president, Julius Maada Bio, "didn't see any need for Mamamah [the proposed airport]" and was considering building a bridge from the capital to Lungi airport - the only international airport in the country. Currently passengers need to get a boat or helicopter to reach Freetown.
Mr Kallon said he did not know whether the cancelled contract would lead to financial implications, and Sierra Leone remained on good terms with China.
"As [a] sovereign state, I do have the right to take the best decision for the country," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
China continues to face huge criticism for its Aids and Loans which it gives to African countries under the China-Africa Trade agreement, with critics saying it is a cheap ploy to lure countries into debt traps by lending them money for massive infrastructure projects which they obviously cannot repay; a claim China continues to deny.
Speaking in China's defense, China's special envoy for Africa, Xu Jinghu, told a news conference in September that:
"If we take a closer look at these African countries that are heavily in debt, China is not their main creditor.
"It's senseless and baseless to shift the blame onto China for debt problems."
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