FREETOWN (Reuters) – Sierra Leone’s government has terminated a $400-million scheme to build a new airport with Chinese labor and loans, according to a letter written last week by the country’s minister of transport and aviation, reviewed by Reuters.
The plan – one of many Chinese infrastructure projects that have proliferated across Africa in the last two decades – had repeatedly been criticized by international financial institutions for the additional burden it would place on Sierra Leone’s external debt.
In the letter dated Oct. 5, transport and aviation minister Kabineh Kallon told the project’s manager that the government would terminate the contract to build the airport as of the end of October, formalizing a decision announced in June.
“After serious consideration and due diligence, it is the government’s view that it is uneconomical to proceed with the construction of a new airport when the existing one is grossly under utilized,” Kallon said. Kallon declined to comment when contacted by Reuters about the letter.
The new airport in the village of Mamamah, outside the capital Freetown, was a flagship project of former president Ernest Bai Koroma, who after four years of negotiations and delays signed a loan agreement in March this year, just days before the election that pushed his party out of power.
His successor, President Julius Maada Bio, had criticized the airport plan during his campaign as “a sham project” and disparaged other Chinese infrastructure schemes.
However, during a visit to Bejing last month Bio proposed a new plan to state-backed Chinese firm Power China International to build a bridge linking the capital Freetown to the existing Lungi airport, which is now accessible only by boat or helicopter.