Gov’t Urged to Honour Backlog Payments to Contractors & Service Providers

As Massive Blackout Imminent this Week…

By Amin Kef (Ranger)

It is an acceptable fact that for development, in all its forms, to truly transpire availability of reliable and constant flow of electricity or power supply must be achieved.  Far from being a theoretical hypothesis this is an undisputed reality of human existence which modern States or functional democracies must fulfill as a benchmark. As a matter of fact sustainable electricity supply is a key component of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The importance of providing dependable electricity supply has been a key aspect of political parties’ manifestoes including the 2018 SLPP Manifesto as was marketed by the party’s Presidential aspirant by then, the current President of Sierra Leone, Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.

Indeed, it is an open secret that for quite a long period of time now, Sierra Leone, as a country, has been grappling with erratic power supply and efforts have been made to overcome the challenges including revamping the Bumbuna Electric Dam, capacitating thermal stations in Freetown and the provinces etc. However, lamentably we have not been able as a country to attain sufficient or adequate power supply.

Commendably, when President Bio took over State Governance impressive strides were made to revamp the energy sector in the country. In a bid to actualize his 2018 manifesto promises into reality, the SLPP Government headed by President Julius Maada Bio ushered in certain reforms within the Energy Sector that translated into enhancing electricity supply and distribution.

His Government ensured that the Fiscal Risks Division of the Ministry of Finance provided technical support in the successful renegotiation of several Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) signed by the previous  political administration, which would have otherwise culminated in considerable financial losses to his Government  including those  with Karpowership and Planet Core Solar Energy Group.

His Government drew support for renegotiating the Karpowership Agreement from which the SLPP Government was able to secure a net savings of US$20 Million over the two year duration of the contract.

Other strides included his Government paying substantial subsidies to the sector to keep tariffs lower for citizens, the replacement of transformers, damaged cables, erecting electric poles all geared towards providing reliable and affordable electricity to Sierra Leoneans.

Also, Energy access was increased  from 16% to 32% in just five years and renewable energy use grew from less than 35% in 2018 to over 75% in 2022. It succeeded in extending renewable and clean off-grid solar electricity to 97 towns and villages in all districts of the country. Work on grid extensions are under consideration in different parts of the country.

Commendably, the rehabilitation of the Western Area distribution network were undertaken and peri-urban areas of Freetown are now connected to the grid. The installation of electricity distribution infrastructure for all district headquarter towns commenced within five years of his administration.

However, with all these gains made by the Government, it now seems that will fade in time as it has become noticeable that of late there have been loud hue and cries related to the erratic power supply that has now become a perennial problem, especially in Freetown.

Some have postulated that the situation is not unconnected with the way and manner in which of late the Government has been treating  certain service providers or contractors, both foreign and local. They have squarely blamed the Ministry of Finance for unfairly treating service providers or contractors with levity and less seriousness particularly when it comes to timely payments for works or services provided.

References have been made to how some ongoing projects that are been implemented by road contractors, suppliers have been slightly slowed down or delayed with some being put on hold out of sheer frustration emanating from non or delayed payments. Slowing down, delaying or putting on hold are understandable when cognizance is taken of the fact that these contractors or service providers have to pay salaries, take care of other overhead costs.

This brings to the fore a contemporary thorny issue that is now like a powder keg that will explode at any time , a very sensitive one as a matter of fact that relates to the sustainability of continued electricity supply, especially to Freetown.

It could be recalled that  it was stated this Government, at its initial stage in Governance, took a wise decision when it renegotiated the Karpowership Agreement from which it was able to secure a net savings of US$20 Million over the two year duration of the contract.  This was done to enhance electricity supply.

This contractual agreement encompasses Karpowership providing Sierra Leone with approximately 65 megawatts of power generation capacity, the implementation, which has been ongoing since 2020, with power supply assuaging 80 percent of the nation’s total electricity needs. The service provider supplies 95% of electricity to Freetown alone.

Through this, Karpowership has been serving as one of three primary sources of electricity for Freetown, with the others being the country’s hydro dam and power supplied through an interconnection with Ivory Coast, which also provides electricity to Guinea and Liberia.

However, of late the symbiotic relationship between the Government and the service provider, Karpowership seems to be hitting the rock.

It is public knowledge that Management of Karpowership claims that the Ministry of Finance is frustrating their operational capability by not being sincere to them. They disclosed how the Government is in huge arrears of payment that they should have offset, amounting to over Thirty Million Dollars ($30M).

According to what was learnt, the Government, through the Ministry of Finance promised to honour payment of the said arrears towards the end of 2023 but has so far failed to do so.

It was also understood that on November 17, 2023, Karpowership’s management issued a written 21-day notice of disconnection to the Government of Sierra Leone due to non-payment for services rendered.

Again, on December 13, 2023, Management issued another written notice giving 14 days deadline, expressing their intent to disconnect services if outstanding payments were not settled.

Since no positive development has materialized, as the situation now stands, there is an impasse between the Government and Karpowership.

Within reliable corridors, it is mooted that Management of Karpowership has resolved that finally on Wednesday, 14th February, 2024 they are going to shut down operations.

When such occurs it is obvious that power outages will soon hit Freetown that will affect different facets of life and various business enterprises in adverse ways.


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