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New York: Berewa’s Statement to PBC

20 October 2006 at 01:23 | 421 views

Statement to the Peace Building Commission
By H.E Solomon Berewa,
Vice President, Republic of Sierra Leone

October 12, 2006.

Mr. Chairman,
Members of the Peace Building Commission,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Permit me to begin this statement by thanking you, members of the Peace Building Commission (PBC), for accepting my country’s request to be one of the first cases for consideration by the Commission. For Sierra Leone, this Commission provides an opportune forum for an open dialogue with the international community on the challenges we face and our plans for the future.

We hope that the deliberations here will help us safeguard and sustain our hard-won peace. In addition, the lessons that are going to emerge here should be useful for the Commission’s work in the future.

May I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Chairman on his election to lead the Commission through uncharted paths, and to assure him of our full support.

Why is Sierra Leone here?
It can be argued that there is now peace in the country, democratic elections have already been held with success, and all that the country should now do is get on with the normal business of development.

Indeed, one school of thought contends that the PBC can be more effective in the immediate aftermath of a conflict; the time when the country must deal with the challenges of providing humanitarian assistance and resuming the normal functions of the State. On the other hand, it is argued that the initial intervention should be done by the Office of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA). Once that task is complete, then normal development can begin. Hence the needs of such a country are best addressed in Consultative Groups (CGs) and Round Tables (RTs). Well, all the above may be true, but they do not represent the whole truth.

Mr. Chairman,
We are here because we are beginning to hear the alarm bells that signal very credible threats to our peace. Indeed our success as a viable state, pursuing development that is sustainable, is in jeopardy unless we can tackle immediately, certain obstacles in our path which, if not removed, may hinder our progress towards long term peace and stability.

We are here to share with you our plans to deal with some of the most daunting challenges we face in the hope of finding jointly with you possible options for resolving them.

We are also here to highlight certain areas that are often ignored, but that constitute impediments to our development agenda, and that may in turn threaten our peace and stability.

Mr. Chairman,
Five years after the conflict, my country can take pride in having been able to restore the authority of the State throughout the country, disarm former combatants, resettle over one million displaced people, re-establish public and social institutions, rehabilitate and rebuild government infrastructure destroyed by the war, provide some basic services, and encourage businesses to return. In this short period, we have moved from the initial preoccupation with humanitarian assistance to grappling with the requirements of national reconstruction, the restructuring of state institutions and to the creation of an atmosphere of stability for normal life to return.

True, we have registered impressive successes in implementing the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme with support from external donors. We have trebled school enrollment rates and doubled the number of health clinics etc;

We have opened the economy and now enjoy macro-economic stability; our exchange rate has remained stable over the last few years; we have maintained a programme with the Bretton Woods institutions; indeed the growth rate of 7+% we have generated over the last three years, sums up our economic performance.

In the area of governance, we have conducted local and national elections, pronounced free and fair by international observers, set up an independent electoral commission, as we continue to reform and reinforce key institutions like the Police, the Military, the Judiciary, the Public Service and the Media. At the same time, decentralization of state resources and authority is being pursued vigorously.

Notwithstanding all the above, we have no illusions that the more difficult tasks are still to come. Recognizing that failures in development policy and practice are at the root of the past conflict, we are now engaged in devising and designing options that would put us on an irreversible path to sustained development. Let me outline for you a few of the difficult tasks awaiting us.

Sierra Leone has a young population with over 60% below the age of 35, and almost 2 million between the ages of 15 and 35. The vast majority of these are unemployed. With over 75% of the population leaving on less than $2 a day, over 1.5 million youths live in conditions of poverty. Without jobs they are disenchanted, volatile and ready to erupt into violence.

We recognize that employment growth is closely tied with expansion of the economy. We also accept that this cannot be achieved overnight.

However, unless we can provide hope now, to the growing numbers of young people, they will either become fodder for ruthless and unsuccessful politicians, or resort to crime and other anti-social activities. In both cases, the result constitutes the most direct and serious threat to peace and stability. Government has therefore prepared a programme to provide employment opportunities in the short and medium term. By re-prioritizing and tight budget management, government has launched the programme with its own resources but look to external partners to meet some of the costs involved.

Capacity weaknesses pervade all areas of the economy, and the effects are evident at all levels, especially in the public service. We cannot maintain the current levels of economic growth with existing capacity, nor can we deliver basic services efficiently using what we now have. Furthermore, weak capacity and its attendant inefficiencies encourage corruption. The government has therefore put this as one of the priority areas of action. Beginning with the civil service, a major reform programme is under way to modernize the service, streamline activities, rationalize institutions and reform pay scales. Equally important targets are the judiciary and the security sectors. Capacity development in Sierra Leone has had a chequered history in our development cooperation efforts and therefore, we are convinced that only creative and bold measures with our partners can ensure success this time around. Government is therefore looking for long term partnerships to accompany the process over time.

Let me now turn to the all important issue of accountability and the effective use of public resources. This can also be expressed negatively as, the misuse of public funds or corruption. As we all know, this is a function of many variables; inefficiency, poor management, weak coordination mechanisms, incompetence, and greed or corruption. What gets the headlines of course is corruption. This is why some of our partners feel that getting convictions in court for high profile cases is the answer.

While we believe that pursuing high profile individuals for corruption is necessary, (and we are doing so), it is far from sufficient to ensure that public resources are used effectively for development results. We have therefore provided full support to the Anti-Corruption Commission, by developing a national strategy for fighting corruption and by giving it complete independence to carry out its work. At the same time, we have also invested in dealing with the more invidious and pervasive factors such as inefficiency, poor management, lack of coordination and inappropriate competencies in the work place; in short, lack of capacity.

We have put in place robust financial management tools and launched a Results Management System that promotes accountability in all government agencies. Recent assessments by the IMF, World Bank, and our key bilateral partners have all praised the progress we have made while encouraging us to go even further.

While all this may appear impressive, the reality is that we are reaching the limits of progress at this stage precisely because of the effects of the recent conflict. Our capacity for service delivery destroyed by the war is only now being rebuilt. The institutions responsible are still weak, our revenue base for much needed capacity enhancements are limited; our justice and security sectors are doing the best possible but remain inadequate.

To complicate matters even further, we have to contend with the unintended consequences of development aid. Please permit me to state in detail some of the unintended consequences of the action of some of our donor partners which in turn became obstacles to the efforts of peace-building in a country such as Sierra Leone.

We estimate, for example, that about 25 % of aid to the country by-passes government channels; making it difficult to maintain a coherent policy in many areas covered by such aid. This is all the more serious because our government structures are still weak. A useful partnership would require support to government capacity building efforts instead of strengthening parallel structures with resources which tend to have better capacity because of access to resources.

Another example is that the fashion in Sierra Leone is for aid to be tied to what are referred to as “benchmarks”. (The term conditionality is no longer in vogue). Well, one donor recently compiled all the benchmarks into a table and we counted two hundred and one “benchmarks” on which we have to report regularly. And this is to be done by an administration that is emerging from a decade-long conflict. In recognition of this burden, we recently adopted another document referred to as the Improved Governance and Accountability Pact, IGAP.

Another example is the long delays associated with implementation. Nowadays, we hesitate to announce aid agreements because they can take up to two years to come to fruition. In the meantime our journalists and other citizens are quick to interpret non-action as evidence of the money having been misappropriated by so-called corrupt politicians!

This is further worsened by the micro-management of projects that are being implemented. Some development partners require the issuance of no objection for even the approved project items with thresholds which are as low as US$80,000. i.e. government would require the approval of some task manager for the funding of a sub-project that cost as low as that amount. Project whose implementation period should last only two - three years would therefore last for as long as five - six years. This delay worsens the frustrations of the beneficiaries who are interested only in the final products. There are also conditionalities associated with project sectors and project locations dictated by what the partner has money for and not necessarily what the beneficiaries need.

An even more serious problem we face is the development of what ends up as a parallel system of government by donors. Let me explain. Donors finance what they think is civil society to undertake activities that the government should normally do but cannot, or do so with difficulty, because of weak institutions. I say “think” because we know that with limited job opportunities, the enterprising graduate just needs to set up an NGO. To the unsuspecting and sometimes nave international organization or donor, this qualifies him for immediate access to money and a four-wheel drive. Overnight, the status of an insignificant organization in a small office with extremely limited membership and without the mandate of the people quickly changes. Indeed, there is now what can be described as an “NGO industry” in Sierra Leone and I am sure this is true of other post-conflict countries.

What is really scary is that the limited trained people we have tend to gravitate towards this industry, thus depriving our fledgling institutions of much needed qualified people. Furthermore, these groups are accountable only to their limited membership and to the donors that finance them.

Mr. Chairman,
At one level, we are doing our best to re-establish the legitimate institutions responsible for service delivery, yet at another level, these very institutions are being undermined by parallel structures that are not accountable to the people at large, but are well funded. A recent case in point is the financing by a donor for the assessment of progress made in implementing the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). The NGO involved did so and of course came up with findings different from those of the hard-pressed government officials. The NGO did not present this report to the Government but instead held a press conference to announce their results. Will this increase confidence in the institutions of government, or will the public now wait for the next report of another member of civil society to present findings on another subject?
Please do not misunderstand me, we have no objection to genuine members of the Civil Society complementing Government’s effort in providing services to the public, or even acting as lobby groups or as checks to excesses or abuses alleged to be perpetuated by government officials. What I am saying is that there should be a balance between spending money on Non-formal Institutions and the strengthening of government institutions in a way that reflects the responsibility carried by these institutions. Clearly, government is mandated by the people to carry out State responsibility.

In short Mr. Chairman, the debate around the effective and efficient use of public resources should emphasise the other dimensions to it, as much as to corruption.

Another difficult task facing us is infrastructure development. While we have undertaken the policy reforms needed, we are still handicapped by poor infrastructure such as, electricity supply and the road network throughout the country which are poor. Rural access is very weak. In turn this limits the provision of health and other social services. There is still a huge gap between what is required and what is available in the area of social services. There are hosts of difficulties in accessing educational and health facilities. The target of having a school and a health centre in every 5 mile radius is far from being achieved. It also increases food prices etc.

Shortage of energy and water supply continue to stunt private sector development.
The paradox is that, now that there is peace, the population expects all services to resume immediately or with greater intensity, and at least be at the level comparable to when the humanitarian NGOs were around. The population’s frustration in not getting the peace dividend immediately can be understood, because the inability of the State during this period is aggravated by the dramatic fall in external support, once the peace-keepers have left. Most of the non-state actors that supported the provision of basic services would have also left; external support for the government diminishes; even the level of security available when the peace-keepers were there could no longer be guaranteed. Humanitarian services begin to wane. The result of this development is an enormous strain on the meager resources of a country emerging from conflict.

On the normal development challenges, we are satisfied that we have got the policy framework right. For example, we have a programme with the IMF, the World Bank, the UNDP, the EU and bi-lateral donors. Government also has a PRSP and is preparing for an MDG assessment mission. Furthermore, we hope to reach the HIPC completion point by the end of the year which will lead to total debt forgiveness. What we have significant problem with is the capacity to implement the major programmes we have in place.

In a recent briefing I gave on our development situation, I was asked the question, how do we explain the penury of our resources inspite of our enormous mineral wealth? This paradox which I prefer to call the “Paradox of mineral wealth” can be explained as follows.

In the immediate aftermath of a conflict, government authorities are anxious for a return to normalcy. Negotiating with sophisticated mining companies in such circumstances is extremely difficult. Remember that the population is crying for employment and the resumption of economic activities. We have been careful in our dealings with mining companies not to pose difficulties that may deter other prospective investors from coming into Sierra Leone as we are keen to encourage more investors to come into the country. The result is that most of the agreements reached do not favor the country and so little dividend accrues to the State. This explains why we have plans with the IMF to re-negotiate our mining contracts.

A related problem concerns our fishery resources. Our artisanal fishermen are getting less and less catch because of the intrusion of foreign trawlers close to our shores. Coupled with that, we have limitations imposed on our exports of marine products by foreign trade and policy barriers. Consequently, our fishing grounds are being depleted, and an important source of food and revenue is generating much less than its potential.

The last difficulty related to the conflict that I wish to outline concerns the stability of the sub-region. Sierra Leone is not the only country that has been in crisis in the region. With our porous borders, any instability in a neighbourhood is bound to have a direct repercussion on us. There are also attendant issues like smuggling of drugs, diamonds, and human-trafficking. Reinforcing our security apparatus to control our borders has been a pre-occupation of our government. A better option, however, is to promote sub-regional programmes for border controls. Apart from our active participation in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), revitalizing the Manor River Union (MRU) is a priority step.

To conclude Mr. Chairman, it would be necessary for me to remind you that the major constraints in consolidating peace and guaranteeing sustainable development include the massive youth unemployment, weak capacity, for service delivery, weak governance structures, and poor physical infrastructure. There is need to urgently address all these in our peace consolidation efforts. In the area of capacity, there is for instance, the need to strengthen government institutions and ministries whose mandate it is to address the above weaknesses. Furthermore, the private sector could serve as the engine for our development growth. Government is willing to provide the social, political and economic environment that will facilitate this growth. For this to happen, the building of institutions and mechanisms must be pursued vigorously. In the meantime, we need support to deal with the short term requirements of the population until we reach the levels of self-sustaining growth. This is where the Peace Building Commission can be helpful, and we have high hopes and expectations that the results of our deliberations here will produce concrete results in helping us to reinforce our peace.
Thank you all for listening.