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PS Mendy: Government Flooded with Unsolicited Proposals for Banjul-Barra Bridge

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Officials From The GPA, Gambia Ferry Service, And Ministry of Transport,Works And, Infrastructure

By Ramatoulie Jawo 

Louise Moses Mendy, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, Works, and Infrastructure, informed the National Assembly that the government has long been receiving unsolicited proposals concerning the construction of the Banjul-Barra Bridge.

 PS Mendy shared these insights on Monday, April 29, 2024, during a meeting with the National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Public Enterprises and the Committee on Monitoring the Implementation of Government Projects, which focused on ferry service issues.

“The government has been receiving many unsolicited proposals with regard to Banjul Barra Bridge for many years. There are a lot of individuals, companies, and groups that have expressed interest in building the Banjul Barra Bridge. However, one of the obstacles or stumbling blocks is having detailed studies or feasibility studies of that bridge. And if you look at what is involved in terms of the finances that are involved, not only in the feasibility studies but even the general construction of the bridge itself, it is very high,” he told the committee.

Mendy highlighted that the ECOWAS bloc has recently shown support for conducting feasibility studies, motivated by the planned ECOWAS highway, known as the ECOWAS Corridor.

“As a result of that corridor, it will serve them well if this bridge is constructed. And that’s what led to their willingness to support those studies that I mentioned earlier. So, they want to link the bridge to that ECOWAS corridor, the Abidjan-Dakar corridor that runs down. So, as a country, we thought it; initially, there were thoughts around where we would allow this corridor to pass through. We were trying to look at various options, but the initial options that I marked, we realized that there would be too short distances if we should use them,” he said. 

According to PS Mendy, some countries have gained significant mileage, possibly even thousands of kilometers, from the corridor expansion. However, considering the narrow width of the Gambia, they realized it was essential to maximize its utilization.

“So, we thought it wise that what we can do was look at how can we maximally use the corridor in terms of stretching through the Gambia. And that is what is now leading for it to stretch through Barra, Banjul, then to Abuko and stretching all the way to be able to link to Mandinaba, Mandinarin, to exit to Siliti, then to Ziguinchor and around so that we have maximal use or benefit from the corridor,” he said.

He stated that ECOWAS studies, prompted by their expressed interest, indicate that upon completion of the feasibility studies and the release of results, they will then issue a tender to interested entities, be they groups, parties, companies, or individuals, based on their financial capacity. He elaborated, saying, “That is where we are now for the bridge, in terms of the Banjul-Barra bridge with regard to its construction”.

He said they don’t have a problem unbundling it, but we are only cautious about the procurement processes that are involved because the project is a major project for the country. 

“The amount that is involved is high, and therefore, if it is not properly done, we could find ourselves at some point wanting something that we don’t want to do either as a sector, as a ministry or as a government. And that’s the more reason why we are trying to get someone to do the feasibility studies that would be a document that would be useful not only to the government but even to the parliament in your engagements outside or internationally, those are documents that you could use to have some bilateral with people out there so that’s one of the things we are trying to do with the bridge, as a long-term measure to bring closure to this issue of ferries along the Banjul-Barra bridge,” he said.

During the discussion, Hon. Yahya Sanyang, Chairman of the Monitoring Committee, estimated the project’s cost at no more than $500 million and sought clarity on considerations before proceeding. Asking, “I want you to tell us, what do we want to consider before we can proceed with this project? What are our considerations before we can proceed?

In response, Mendy referred to a preliminary survey by the China Road and Bridge Company in 2013, suggesting costs might exceed initial estimates.

“So you look at our revenue as a country. How do we now balance that in terms of engaging in or committing ourselves to such a project?” he questioned. Hon. Lamin Ceesay, a member of the Public Enterprise Committee, proposed focusing on a reliable and efficient ferry service to generate revenue without imposing liabilities on future generations.

“Why the urgent need? There is no urgent need for the bridge. ECOWAS’s interest stems from trade and strategic considerations. Having efficient ferry services or taking that heavy burden on the bridge?” he stressed. Honorable Samba Jallow, another committee member, expressed concerns that constructing a bridge at the river’s mouth would compromise its navigability.

“I could have even suggested that in this area, since the investment we are trying to go for is a big investment, we die at once. We look for a tunnel that will not affect the navigability of the river from the mouth. So, for me, this is my proposal.,” he proposed. 

Echoing similar sentiments, Honorable Almameh Gibba foresaw the potential obsolescence of GPA and ferries.

“I don’t know whether you people are watching along that line. If Farafenni is taken, other areas are taken, and now Banjul Barra is also taken, and we are seeing that GPA is crying with heavy tears that we are losing finance. For example, you collect a revenue of twenty million a month, and you spend about forty to fifty million on operations. Again, ECOWAS is coming with their flamboyant aspects of quotations or protocols. We are here to regulate the system. ECOWAS has its interest, and what is of interest as a country is that Banjul Barra is making revenue for GPA and ferries,” he stated. 

He said he wanted to make it very clear that, bridging the Banjul Barra is a non-starter.  

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