Freetown Decongestion Project Underway
-Sadiq Sillah Stoutly Says
Sadiq Sillah, Deputy Minister Transport and Aviation
The Deputy Minister of Transport and Aviation, Sadiq Sillah in the first part of this One on One interview says there is no controversy over the production and issuance of number plates as was widely reported. He says it is not correct that drivers are still collecting ‘inflated’ transport fares from passengers despite the recent reduction in price, and adds that his ministry is doing all in its power in collaboration with other stakeholders to decongest the capital city Freetown. Excerpts:
Prince C. Kamara: If we could start by you giving us your name and designation?
Sadiq Sillah: I am Sadiq Sillah. I am Deputy Minister Transport and Aviation.
Prince C. Kamara: Sir, of recent there seems to have been a controversy over the production and issuance of number plates by the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA). What clarification can you say to the public that nothing is amiss?
Sadiq Sillah: No. I don’t think there is a controversy. There is a clear position of the Executive Director of Sierra Leone Road safety Authority that he is now in contractual agreement with a unit that is going to be providing number plates and that unit has started producing number plates as I speak.
Prince C. Kamara: As a ministry have you been following or are you satisfied that everything is okay?
Sadiq Sillah: Yeah! I’m fine. Everything is okay and the quality of the number plates that they are producing is good.
Prince C. Kamara: With regard the recent reduction of fuel price, there are some fuel stations that are still reluctant to sell their products as per the new reduced price; thereby making it seem as if there is shortage of fuel when vehicles queue for hours. What are your comments?
Sadiq Sillah: No. Nobody is complaining about the reduction of fuel price. When it was increased we had our formula. If there is a change in the global price, then we also effect the change – whether up or down. The dealers have been adhering. The fact of the matter is the demand for fuel is higher. People are now using the various modes of transportation – kekehs, motor bikes, taxis, buses or what-have-you to get to their destinations and so the demand for fuel keeps increasing every day.
Prince C. Kamara: Still on the fuel reduction; it is being said by especially provincial commuters that when the price of fuel went up, so did transport fare to the provinces. And so, now that fuel price has dropped, they are expecting a parallel drop in provincial transport fare but this has not happened. Why is that so sir?
Sadiq Sillah: That’s not correct. Immediately there is an increase or a decrease then we will also adjust the price. So the prices have been adjusted. That’s the truth.
Prince C. Kamara: You’re very confident of this sir. But quite recently people came back from Makeni complaining that they pay the same fare they used to pay when fuel was increased. What can you say about this?
Sadiq Sillah: That’s just a normal thing. There are people always in society that always want to play fast on other people. Perhaps the price would drop in Freetown; and people are aware that the price has decreased in Freetown and before information gets to the provinces one or two people would play smart. So those isolated cases cannot be generalized.
Prince C. Kamara: People might want to know the latest developments taking place at the Ministry of Transport and Aviation. What is new?
Sadiq Sillah: Well, what is new is that we have the World Bank project ‘Creating a Safe Corridor in Freetown’ trying to decongest Freetown. We are now busy trying to have physical infrastructure works started. We are trying to put safety and security in the aviation industry under control. We are trying to put safety and security in the maritime domain under control. We are trying to create safety and security in land transportation. These are the new proactive steps that we are taking as a ministry; and thereby, trying to make every activity competitive and affordable for our people and ensuring that vehicles are properly licensed, nobody harasses drivers, no short-cuts in anything, and vehicles are properly kept mechanically; metal seats are not allowed – everything that has decency and for sure, we are now coming with motor vehicle inspection stations that we started building in the country.
Prince C. Kamara: The focus on managing the Coronavirus pandemic has been on how well we manage our airport for the disease to be kept at bay and not overwhelm us. Have you taken into consideration that we also have seaports and jetties where boats land from neighboring countries. What is being done to ensure these entry points are monitored and protected?
Sadiq Sillah: You have to be aware that when it was Ebola in our country, I was by then the District Council Chairman of Pujehun and I was recorded to be the first leader at that point to eliminate Ebola and so I take that experience and that decisiveness to my ministry’s operation. The Minister of Health would bear me witness. I was the first Minister apart from him that went to him, (that was three months back) the day we heard about Coronavirus in China; that we should come together as ministries and we should start acting as one unit and we should have a command and control structure; and that we should instill discipline into everything we do; no lethargy, no carelessness in anything and we have to adhere to issues strictly. So we took that to the aviation ward; we took that to the maritime ward and we took that to the road transport ward. We are collaborating with all other institutions. Mind you, nobody lives like an island in such a situation – it has to be teamwork. Somebody has to say: from today, we for instance stopped all public gathering like the President has clearly said; he being a decisive leader, that any gathering above one hundred is not authorized in this country. Somebody has to enforce that and that’s the law enforcement people. My experience teaches me that soon the military would come in big time so that when they say citizens should not to this; they should not do it. So we have instituted at the airport regulations and we’ve involved the military. In the civil aviation we have the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which is the aviation wing of the United Nations that puts out all our protocols. So we have given the military the full authority to help us make sure that these pronouncements are strictly adhered to in the airport where we also have the Immigration, the Police, and the heads of personnel. We are the landlords. We are there. We are not shifting ourselves from any blame but we make sure that everybody does what he’s supposed to do; and you do it to the best of your ability.
Prince C. Kamara: Another issue is the one about vehicles imported into the country. There is a general belief that most second hand vehicles brought into the country by car dealers are more than five years old which are rejected in some countries. What is your ministry doing to ensure that used vehicles coming into this country are roadworthy, do not emit poisonous fumes and are environmentally safe and do not end up as carcasses on our streets after a few months in operation?
Sadiq Sillah: It is not about what my ministry is doing. Rather, it should be what has government been doing in the past and what government is continuing to do. Government in the past, through the Ministry of Finance, tried to ensure that for you coming with brand new vehicles, the Customs rate you pay is lower in terms of percentage than for you coming with second vehicles. We are also trying to discourage people from bringing vehicles that are ten years or older into the country. It is a matter of policy and it is a matter of having the right economic mix because you need to understand that the other countries that have taken this bold step didn’t just start it in a day. They took precautionary steps and they created some concessionary environment where for instance, if you come with a brand new vehicle (I’ve seen nations and studied and read through some documents wherein some nations would say: if you buy a brand new vehicle, they will exempt you from paying certain tax) and so that encourages people to come in with brand new vehicles rather than second hand vehicles. We are going to get to that one day as a nation. We are going to have to look at the cost benefit analysis of that not only to the Ministry of Transport but to other ministries and to the economy as a whole. So these are not decisions you just suck your thumb and you take overnight to implement. It has to have serious considerations because it has cross-cutting issues.
CONTINUED ON WEDNESDAY