By Amin Kef (Ranger)
In a disappointing turn of events, local contractors are expressing frustration over unmet promises by the Government to settle substantial domestic arrears owed to them before the end of December 2023. Hopes were high among contractors, but these were dashed when they encountered a series of excuses from senior officials in the Ministry of Finance, including Minister Sheku Ahmed Fantamadi Bangura.
Initially, contractors were informed that a US$65 million grant from the World Bank aimed at supporting the Government’s macroeconomic stability would be disbursed, with a portion allocated for contractor payments. However, this disbursement did not materialize as expected. On December 21, 2023, the World Bank released the funds through the Bank of Sierra Leone, instructing contractors to await payments until civil and public servant salaries for December had been processed.
Subsequently, contractors were informed that Minister Bangura had ceased office attendance due to personal reasons. In the first week of January 2024, they were further informed that State House approval was required before any disbursements could occur.
As the Ministry of Finance seemingly runs out of justifications, local contractors find themselves dodged, prompting some to avoid their offices amid fears of potential altercations with disgruntled suppliers and workers. The repercussions of delayed or absent payments extend beyond individual contractors, adversely affecting the execution of vital Government projects in areas such as water, agriculture, energy, health and roads.
A clear case in point is the payment of arrears owed to a prominent service provider, Karpowership, which was contracted by the Government to provide approximately 65 megawatts of power generation capacity since 2020, covering 80 percent of the nation’s total electricity needs with supplying 95% of electricity to Freetown.
According to what was learnt, the Government through the Ministry of Finance, is said to be in payment arrears to the tune of over $30M to Karpowership but reneged on its earlier promise made to offset the said arrears by the end of 2023. As the situation now stands the company has given notification that it will shut-down operations any time soon.
That decision, it was further known, came in the wake of Management of Karpowership, on November 17, 2023, issuing 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, this time for 14 days, expressing their intent to disconnect services if outstanding payments were not settled.
Though the Finance Minister pledged to settle the aforementioned arrears by the end of December 2023 yet such payment is still to be made to Karpowership.
According to our investigations, there are other local and foreign contractors who are yet to access timely payments from the Finance Ministry after making frantic efforts to get those overdue payments. It is now widely mooted that the suspension in the implementation of certain projects in various provinces is a direct result of the Ministry’s failure to promptly disburse funds.
Fears have been expressed that with such a frustrating experience being suffered by contractors there is the tendency that the President’s ambitious Big 5 development agenda, with Feed Salone as the flagship, will not be smoothly and timely realized.
For now, with the imminent shutdown notification by Karpowership, Freetownians should be bracing themselves to face the imminent and inevitable power outage or blackout that would soon engulfed the entire city of Freetown with all the attendant inconveniences and embarrassment that such may cause.
For what is known, such an ugly experience will not come about as a result of their own making, as it is certain that most residents are, at any given time, willing to recharge their meters with the expectation of deriving electricity supply in return.
All efforts made to reach out to the appropriate officials of the Ministry of Finance to comment on the said issue were very unsuccessful.
However, it is expected that in this kind of dire situation the Minister of Energy, Alhaji Kanja Sesay would issue out a public statement stating the position of the Government although the Minister of Information, Chernor Bah, claimed during the30th January, 2024 Press Briefing that the Government has made some payment in that direction, a claim that the Management of Karpowership has so far debunked or refuted.