Infrastructure Is My Target -President Bio

 

His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has averred in his keynote address at the United Kingdom (UK)-Sierra Leone Trade and Investment Forum recently held in London that to develop the country, his emphasis would be on infrastructural development, using the private sector as the main driver.

Addressing over three hundred invited British investors, President Julius Maada Bio emphasized: “We see infrastructural developments as critical enablers for investment.” He added that his ‘New Direction’ administration has done two remarkable things: “First, I have established an Office of Presidential Infrastructural Initiatives in the presidency headed by an engineer of great pedigree. This guarantees that I get first-hand advice on the purposeful and timely planning and implementation of growth-oriented infrastructural initiatives,” he informed his audience, noting that Sierra Leone cannot afford a nationwide infrastructural overhaul at this point, and that the government is committed to working with investors and private capital to plan and develop infrastructure.

“We are guided by the key principles of competitive bidding, sound debt-management policy and transparent and independent feasibility studies when pursuing infrastructure investments,” the President said.  The key priority areas his government wants from the British investment sector for infrastructural support, he said, are in tourism and agribusiness.

With energy being a critical concern to investors, President Bio assured them that his government has started large-scale investments in rural mini-grid, noting that there is still a huge energy gap in the urban areas and that mini-grids won’t likely serve business well, particularly for mining and agro-business. So even with ongoing investments in the sector, there is room for private investments in the generation and distribution sub-sectors.

Second, the President said, the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) network which traverses the country from the North-West to the South-East with five substations and straddles potential hydro-electric capacity will play a major role in delivering Sierra Leone’s energy security.

In terms of the human resource requirements for expanding the country’s infrastructure, President Bio said, “We want tourists; we want investors and business people; and we want experts, innovators, doctors, and other highly-skilled professionals.” As such, he said, “We are finalizing a complete review of the visa process to make it even easier for these categories of people to enter the country.

The President further assured the British investors that his government is listening to business and will continue acting to make business easy for investors. “We are eager to cultivate a culture of trust and confidence around investing in Sierra Leone,” he said, adding, “We want our potential investors to know that we are looking for credible partners that are interested in a sustainable, long-term, win-win relationship where they know that their investments are protected by a government that truly cares about business and they are able to make good returns on their investments.”

He continued that his government is “looking to diversify our economy with private capital investments. So we are offering a number of opportunities. In tourism, we are offering our friends a new destination to discover – one that is known for its long stretches of pristine beaches and with particularly unique eco-tourism potential including sport fishing, diving, and hiking on undiscovered majestic mountain ranges in the north, the calm Lake Sonfon, and the wildlife, birds, and fauna on Tiwai Islands to the South. We are developing a longer-term vision and the Minister of Tourism will speak to the details of how we are building capacity in the sector, reviewing the visa process, and reducing the cost of travel to Sierra Leone.”

For agriculture, the President said Sierra Leone has 5.4 million hectares of arable land of which only 15% is currently under cultivation. President Bio told the audience: “We want to do more with the country’s and the region’s staple food, rice. There is a potential US$3 billion ECOWAS market open to investors. So we are looking at other possibilities in livestock farming (poultry and cattle), cash crops (cocoa, coffee, cashew), fruits, horticulture, and vegetables. The soil and rainfall volumes are right and we have a young population that is eager to work. We want to create value chains around these products. There is also a market for agro-input (improved seeds, fertilizer among others). We offer favourable investment incentives in this sector.”

In the area of energy, President Bio said Sierra Leone offers great potential for renewables with a huge hydro-generation potential and high solar irradiation capacity. According to him, “There is also good wind potential. There is also a huge market in Sierra Leone for off-grid energy and we are positioning Sierra Leone to be the regional hub for off-grid energy.” He furthered that the country has developed clear and transparent procedures for private sector participation in energy investments through PPPs.

In the area of mining, he said his government has commissioned a very comprehensive nationwide high-resolution airborne geophysical, which will be augmented with detailed geological and geochemical surveys. “This will help us ascertain the full extent of the country’s mineral potentials and thus improve the geological knowledge of Sierra Leone to assist investors in selecting prospective areas for licence applications,” President Bio said.

The aim, he said, is to attract private investments in exploration and mining; emphasize integration of the mineral sector with the rest of the economy; establish a fiscal regime which balances benefits with investments competitiveness; support mineral beneficiation and marketing; guide investors towards sustainable exploitation of mineral resources of Sierra Leone in a win-win manner; and, enable Sierra Leone to obtain maximum benefits from its mineral deposits.

In providing the enabling climate to attract investors, President Bio said that, “We are embarking on a large project of reforming our business environment to attract foreign and local investments in Sierra Leone. We will simplify the bureaucracy around requirements and regulations for businesses and invest in infrastructure for exports. We will provide incentives for companies investing in priority sectors and complying with requirements.”

President Bio concluded: “When you come to Sierra Leone, you will find a receptive and listening government; one that is responsive to the needs of business; one that is learning and growing every day to respond to the needs and requests of investors.”