The chairman of Sierra Leone’s National Commission for Privatisation (NCP), Abu Bangura , tells New African about the investment opportunities in the country and the privatisation programme currently being managed by the NCP.
Q: Can you give an overview in terms of the NCP’s mandate and objectives?
A: The National Commission for Privatisation (NCP) was established by an Act of Parliament – the NCP Act of 2002. The mandate is very clear: the NCP is responsible for the privatisation and divestiture of public enterprises. It can propose amendments to laws, and formulate policies regarding divestiture. What that entails is that the management of public enterprises has been removed from the supervisory ministries to the NCP, which will direct the way public enterprises are to be operated.
The objective is clearly stated in the Act – the NCP is the prudential shareholder in every public enterprise.
This gives us the mandate to set policies, and we divest some of those mandates by appointing the board of directors in every institution, who report to us. As an institution, the NCP has been engaged in a lot of programmes. To divest or privatise a company, you have to carry out a lot of improvement in those institutions because over time some of them have been mismanaged. To have value for money, you have to improve these institutions and make them attractive to investors.
The reason for these privatizations is because the government wants to concentrate on its social responsibilities – addressing issues of poverty. It also wants to lessen the burden on government finances.
These public enterprises have over time been subsidised by the government and we believe that Sierra Leone can only develop if you have a bigger private sector. You cannot develop an economy without the private sector. We have moved away from the time when the government owned all institutions. Governments are not good business people so they have to bring in private sector people to partner with.
Q: You have been around since 2002; what are some of the main areas, industries or organisations where private investors could actually play a role?
A: For now our focus is mostly on the transport sector. Recently, we gave a contract for the containers terminal at the Freetown port to a private company from France. They are here to improve efficiency of container handling. They will do it for 20 years.
There is also room for expansion of the port. The objective is to make it a trans-shipment port. Sierra Leone is the shortest route to South America and we have a natural harbour which we can use as a hub to trans-ship goods to Latin America. Instead of sending a vessel from China straight to South America, you can easily send it to Sierra Leone and then send it down. It’s cheaper.
We also have to improve on the efficiency of the port. So the port is one area where we are still looking for infrastructural development.We have a future in oil exploration.
We are looking for investors to help us to build a new terminal for the oil companies.
In the transport sector, we are also looking for opportunities for the Freetown airport. We intend to have a new airport. Developing a new airport requires a lot of other facilities. You need hotels, handling companies, etc. So we are looking for private investors in that area. We also have small domestic airports, which we need to develop. We have mining activities going on, so we need more ports to transport the products from the mines. We also need more airlines coming into Sierra Leone. With these investments, the traffic will increase.
We are also developing the financial sector. At the moment, we are trying to divest two national commercial banks.
One of them is the Rokel Commercial Bank. We are going to sell our 51% share in that bank. There is also the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank which is 100% owned by the government.
That is also going on the market very soon.
There are other financial services that are needed. We have a stock market and most of our companies will be listed very soon. So there is a future in that too.