In a shocking revelation, a leaked letter dated December 28, 2023, has exposed the decision to substantially increase various aviation charges at Freetown International Airport, leaving Sierra Leoneans and travellers reeling from the financial implications. Signed by A.J.P. Lebbie for the Senior Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, the letter outlines a significant spike in fees, with detrimental consequences for citizens and the country’s tourism sector.
The most glaring of these increases is the Passenger Service Charge, which skyrocketed from $25 to $35, effective March 1st, 2024. Simultaneously, the Airport Development Charge will see a staggering surge from $5 to $100 in 2024, with an annual increment of $1 thereafter. The Airport Safety Fee, previously nonexistent, now stands at $65 per passenger, while the Airport Navigation Charge has been set at $20. These, along with other escalated charges, come less than a year after the commissioning of the new terminal at Freetown International Airport.
What adds salt to the wound is the undisclosed agreement with the Turkish Summa group and the extension of the lease agreement from 25 to 33 years. The entire agreement continues to shroud itself in secrecy, withholding crucial details from public scrutiny. A lack of transparency and public participation in parliamentary discussions regarding this agreement further deepens the public’s dissatisfaction. Parliament exempted itself from the Passenger Service Charge, leaving ordinary citizens to bear the brunt of these exorbitant fees. The decision to peg these charges in dollars, despite the official policy requiring transactions in the local currency, raises questions about the Government’s commitment to its regulations.
The repercussions of these increased charges are severe. Flights to and from Sierra Leone are now even more unaffordable, compelling travellers to seek alternative routes through neighbouring countries, such as Guinea. The move risks separating families, hindering tourism, reducing competitiveness, and placing financial burdens on businesses and ordinary citizens.
The impacts on the aviation industry are evident, as increased landing charges and fees for flight operators will inevitably lead to higher ticket prices for passengers. This not only threatens the potential growth of Sierra Leone’s economy but also jeopardises whatever progress has been made in making the country an attractive destination for tourists.
The Government’s decision seems to benefit only a privileged few, raising concerns about the commitment to the well-being of ordinary citizens. The stark reality is that, with these new charges, Sierra Leone risks isolating itself from the global tourism market as potential visitors opt for more affordable and convenient alternatives in neighbouring countries. It is far cheaper to visit Gambia or Ghana than it is to visit Sierra Leone.
The Government must reevaluate these decisions, considering the potential long-term consequences on the nation’s economy. A recommitment to transparency, public participation, and a thorough review of the agreements is needed to ensure that the interests of all citizens are safeguarded.
Sierra Leone deserves an airport that acts as a catalyst for prosperity, not a hindrance that impedes economic growth and deters travel. Given the current trajectory, there is legitimate concern that if the proposed plans to construct a bridge to Lungi move forward under a similar Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) agreement, the associated charges could be equally punitive, rendering it nearly impossible for the average Sierra Leonean to afford travel. The citizens of Sierra Leone deserve better—a government that places their welfare at the forefront and ensures that present decisions do not reduce us to mere peasants in our own land and compromise the future of our nation.