Sierra Leone
On the path to recovery

  Interview with:

Hon. Dr. Prince Alex Harding

Minister of Transport and Communication

29th of August, 2003, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Q.1. How has been your co-operation with the National Privatization Commission? What are the advices that you are giving them in order to prepare the various companies under your Ministry for investors?

A.1: The Act of Parliament that established the National Privatization Commission made them solely responsible to shape the policies to carry out the privatization process. It was stated there explicitly that nobody else should be interfering in that process so to that extent I can not even give advice to the commission on how to proceed. Initially in most of the parastatals we, the Ministry used to have its representative on the board of directors, but we had to withdraw them. It is one form of collaboration with the commission by not sending the wrong kind of signals to the parastatals themselves. We havek now settled our overall policies, which is, whatever policy we will have in the future, must be first shared and to some extent approved by the NPA to ensure conformity and to make sure that we are not doing anything against ultimate goal, which is privatization. We are working in tandem with them but the driving seat belongs to them.

Q.2. There are also many developments in the communication sector, one of them is the establishment of an Independent Regulatory Body that is designed to really encourage investors to come into Sierra Leone, what are your expectations to that respect?

A.2. First of all, like I have outlined in my speech in the National Symposium the other day, the telecomunication sector is in a transition stage transforming from public to private and also transforming from being a monopoly dominated sector to become a scene for major competition. The driving force behind the policy of establishing a service on a high quality and at an affordable price together with an enabling environment to attract investors is to establish an Independent Regulatory Body. It is designed to regulate the sector without political interference and also free from financial influence. The President in his wisdom, has announced first that the industry should be liberalized and he gave a lot of importance to really open up the market. Previously we have tried to create the base of a free and fair environment but I think that the creation of that independent Regulator will be the most important one. As a result, the market is now open, and we are encouraging all investors to come in, at the same time it is regarded as a basic utility and so we should provide for it for the people of this nation.

Q.3. Do you really believe that this step alone would stimulate the investors to come and invest in the fixed line telephony or Sierratel?

A.3. First of all we have to look at what Sierratel is today. Whatever investor would come here the only thing it would be interested at is how to make money and how fast will he get the return on his investment. Then, he will also look at the amount of money that he is willing to invest to make it kick start. I personally don't know what is written in the books of Sierratel or what the results are that they are producing, so it would be hard for me to speculate on that, but I know one thing is for sure, it is that with the right kind of investment and the right kind of expertise, you can make money. The fixed line is there and there is no way any other system can replace, that is a fact. It is also a fact that the fixed line has to stay here and that there is a future for it, it just needs the right kind of person with the expertise and the financial muscle to invest into it, to modernice it and to expand it. The operations for the fixed line, the connection fees, etc. are in general one tenth of the price of the mobile systems. So the fixed line has a very important role to play and a very important space to fill.

Q.4. The airport is already prepared for increased traffic, how will you try to develop the national air carrier to be able to transport more passengers, as it is projected by the Government?

A.4. The major guidelines behind the development of the air traffic are mostly based on the bilateral relationships between the air carriers themselves. We are in close contact with them and we are supporting every effort they have to increase the air traffic. Speaking more specifically about Sierra National Airline (SNA), which is also slated for privatization, we are encouraging the building of partnerships between foreign airline companies and SNA. Another aspect of cooperation that we are encouraging for SNA is to make Sierra Leone a hub for the foreign airlines, both international and regional, where they could have crew changes, carry out major maintenance, etc services. These are the type of plans that we are supporting right now and it would bring benefits to both the airport, the national air carrier and the nation as a whole.

Q.5. The Port of Sierra Leone is one of the deepest natural harbours in the world and plus it has a very good geographycal location, what are the plans of the Ministry to capitalize in such assets?

A.5. As you know, the Port of Sierra Leone is also a candidate for privatization, but if you take the concern of security, we have to admit, that ports are a potential target for terrorist actions. So with the privatization, we have to make sure that security comes on board too. What we would prefer to do is to privatize certain activities in the port that are not the core functions of the port. With the help from the World bank, we have been able to do a major capital infusion and to bring in a lot of equipment to accelerate the loading and offloading of ships and vessels. Even with that, sometimes we have queues of ships waiting to enter the port and to be served. We want to be efficient to the maximum and the security also, so that will enourage people to establish their businesses in the country. At the same time we are also trying to establish ourselves as a transshipment base, that would also boost the revenues of the port and positively contribute to the general business climate in the country.
On the political side, we are also developing bilateral relations with many countries, like the UK, Holland, Belgium, and many othre African countries. At the cornerstone of the airline business is that we have liberalized the business, with that we have also created competition among the carriers. Talking about the transportation sector, most of our business is connected to Guinea, so we have established sound relations with them and therefore we also encourage the development of road transportation between our countries. The development of the maritime transportation sector is crucial for our poverty alleviation policy, so it is of key importance for us. We are not only developing the port and its services but also the jettys, landing sites in the coastal and river areas, that also includes a lot of work to identify the populated areas, since most of the population has been relocated due to the war.

Q6. What are the advantages that Sierra Leone can offer to the foreign investors?

A.6. For example, in the transportation sector, we have not got any organized and relaible form of transportation which people could use. I want to emphasize the fact that for the time being it is a fully liberalized area, the people are on the move, they need these kind of services, so I am very much looking forward to somebody to invest, whether in the road transport or river transportation.

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