Beach Bar Owners Demand Fairness Amidst Demolition Threats

By Amin Kef (Ranger)

In recent times Sierra Leone has made and witnessed significant gains within the Tourism and Hospitality Sector which to a large extent has been attributed to the strong political will in driving meaningful and impactful transformations. Series of policies and programmes so far rolled out by the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and its affiliates or departments, especially the National Tourist Board have helped positively in shaping and enhancing the tourism and hospitality sector, providing meaningful engagements for many young people.

It is an indisputable fact that with the choice of Sierra Leone  serving as the country where the finishing line for the Budapest-Bamako- Freetown Rally recently took place, greatly helped in spotlighting  the nation as a safe tourist destination further instilling hope that the tourism will be enhanced to be a viable conduit for meaningful revenue mobilization.

There is no iota of doubt that these are trying times for most Sierra Leoneans due to the varying economic challenges affecting the vast majority as evident in skyrocketing prices, high currency exchange rates amidst less employment opportunities.

With limited accesses to lucrative employment opportunities within the public or private sectors some ambitious Sierra Leoneans therefore are turning to invest in various business ventures as conduits from which income or revenue could be derived.  Among this group of Sierra Leoneans are individuals who have ventured into the Hospitality Sector, with a sizable percentage being beach bar owners mainly doing business along the Lumley Beach in the West End of Freetown.

Beach Bars are offering important services to indigenous Sierra Leoneans and foreign tourists who visit the country’s beaches, especially in the Western Rural District, to relax, get fresh air and enjoy the sea view. Beach Bar owners avail beach visitors, on sale, various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages as well as special delicious foods of different varieties. In as much as these entrepreneurs are trying to make a living, however, the hospitality services they are rendering cannot in anyway be underestimated or trivialized as they are helping greatly to enhance the tourism sector.

Against this backdrop, it highly significant that any policy or action that is to be instituted that has the propensity of seriously affecting the investments of Beach Bar owners must be thoroughly considered , weighed against the dislocations  and ramifications that will come in its wake.

It is important that certain things must be taken into account: Will such a decision contribute to improve the welfare of the affected persons or improve their lot? Will it portray the public sector ,from where the policy or action emanated ,in any positive light, add any significant political clout vis-à-vis the important expectation that Government should improve the welfare of citizens? Are representatives of the people consulted and most importantly was thought given to the relevance of existing Acts of Parliament, that seemingly appear outdated, to ensure that they match with contemporary trends under which such a policy or action is executed?

Having said that,  this medium reliably learnt that a decision that is about to be executed by  the National Tourist Board (NTB) to demolish  beach bars along Lumley Beach has not gone down well with the owners. A National Tourist Board (NTB) notification, dated February 12, 2024, and signed by Fatmata Mida Hamid Carew, General Manager of the NTB, giving beach bar owners a compliance deadline of the 29th February, 2024 or face demolition has noticeably sent shockwaves through the community of beachfront businesses.

In an interview conducted recently, most of the beachfront business owners averred that there is no possibility of blockage of beach access mainly because the business structures are not fencing the entire beach line. They pointed out that there is no way an individual could be prevented from accessing the beach as there are vast areas where accessibility could be attained at any given time.

They also mentioned that they are not averse to compliance with the Policy Guidelines for Lumley Beach but said it could be more plausible if adequate time is provided for the adjustments to be made by them rather than subject them to an expedited process that will seriously affect them.  To underscore that point they maintained that their investments relate to fixed assets which if any demolition exercise is executed could result to irreparable damages, with no insurance to be claimed.

As the situation now stands amidst this imminent threat, beach bar owners, who constitute a significant portion of the affected establishments, are expressing disappointment and anxiety over the potential loss of their businesses.

With this ugly situation looming,  they said for now they want to make a passionate appeal to the  President, His Excellency Julius Maada Bio and the Chief Minister , Dr. David Moinina Sengeh,  to intervene maintaining how the demolition would render thousands of Sierra Leoneans jobless.

They highlighted the lack of direct engagement from the Tourist Board since the issuance of the first letter in December, with no representatives visiting their establishments to identify specific violations or provide guidance on compliance.

Asserting that their bars contribute positively to the beach environment, attracting tourists and locals alike, the owners express willingness to cooperate with authorities to rectify any issues. “These bars are not just structures; they are our livelihoods,” one owner stated. “We understand the need for regulations but ask for a fair chance to rectify any shortcomings.”

Urging the NTB to engage in open dialogue and conduct on-site assessments to identify specific violations, the owners believe a collaborative approach is key to preserving both the unique beach atmosphere and their businesses.

With the February 29 deadline hanging like the Sword of Damocles, tensions among bar owners are escalating, leaving them uncertain about the future. The onus now falls on the National Tourist Board to address the concerns raised by these local entrepreneurs and find a balanced solution that promotes beach development while safeguarding livelihoods.


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