UK DEVELOPMENT MINISTER'S VISIT TO SIERRA LEONE, 10-11 MARCH 2004
SPEECH ON CORRUPTION: FREETOWN, 10 MARCH 2004
This is my first visit to Sierra Leone. I am delighted to be able to meet friends and colleagues here in a country with which Britain has had an exceptionally close relationship. I want to say something about that relationship, and in particular how it has developed over the two years since the formal declaration of peace at the beginning of 2002. It seems to me that there have been really positive developments during this time but also that more remains to be done. And I want to focus in particular in one area in which I think the efforts of the government, and ours as a donor, must be strengthened if the achievements of the past two years are not to be endangered.
But to begin I want to say something about an initiative just launched by Prime Minister Tony Blair on 26 February, which will be of interest, I think, to everyone here and that is the formation of the Commission for Africa. What is it for? It is intended to focus the world’s attention on Africa. It aims to generate increased support for the New Partnership for African Development---NEPAD---and for the G8 Africa Action Plan. Next year Britain will chair the G8 and the EU, and the Commission will report in time for both. It will look at the circumstances of Africa and at policy on Africa (both within the continent and internationally): what’s worked; what’s failed; where more could be done; and where more support is needed from the international community
The Commissioners will be politicians and opinion formers, drawn from developed countries and Africa. Gordon Brown, our Chancellor, Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia, KY Amoako (Head of the UN Economic Commission for Africa), Trevor Manuel (South African Minister of Finance), Michel Camdessus (President Chirac’s Africa Personal Representative) and Sir Bob Geldof are already confirmed as Commissioners. Tony Blair will chair meetings of the Commission. I will oversee the ongoing work of the Commission on the Prime Minister’s behalf.
The Commissioners will consult a wide range of experts and thinkers on each issue. The process will be open, with public seminars and meetings to discuss the themes and issues. We hope that many organisations will contribute to this work. Each Commissioner will host meetings, hold debates and call for papers on the theme he or she is leading. I very much hope that there will be contributions from Sierra Leone, both from government and civil society. Our High Commission is available to advise on this.
Over the next 12 months the Commissioners will take forward discussions on the key challenges to Africa’s development. The themes of the report - and Commissioners’ responsibilities - will be decided at the first meeting of the Commission in early May, but are likely to include some or all of the following: the economy (including development finance, economic integration and trade); education; conflict resolution and peacebuilding; health; the environment; HIV/AIDS; governance; and culture.
The setting up of the Commission is a demonstration of the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to African issues. It is of course central to the objectives of my Department. By 2006, our annual commitment to Africa will be one billion pounds a year. But development finance is only part of the answer to Africa’s needs. I hope that the Commission will give new energy to a combined effort by Africans and the international community together to bring stability and prosperity to the continent.
Let me turn now to our relationship with Sierra Leone.
My department is frequently approached by researchers looking for information on Sierra Leone. They often tell us that they intend to take Sierra Leone as an example of a post-conflict success story. I hope that Sierra Leonean friends here will not misunderstand me when I say that we challenge this view. It is not that we doubt that there have been important achievements. But we do not wish there to be a general perception that Sierra Leone is secure against the threats that overcame the country so destructively in the last decade. Nor do we want the international community to feel that it can turn its attention away from here. Indeed, I regret the fact that there are still relatively few donors providing significant assistance.
We continue to make the case internationally for more support for Sierra Leone and, indeed, for current levels of support to be maintained. However, I have to say that the continued absence of a Poverty Reduction Strategy makes it more difficult to persuade others to change their perceptions of Sierra Leone. I welcome the fact that the institutional arrangements for preparing the PRS have been revised, and particularly that they now fully recognise the need to maintain the link to resource allocation. The production of a PRSP should symbolise Sierra Leone’s passing from the immediate post-conflict period into that of a long term process of eradication of poverty. We will continue to support the work towards the preparation of a PRSP, and I look forward to one being agreed with the IMF and World Bank as soon as possible this year.
Of course, an important symbol of the return to peace two years ago was the successful undertaking of the presidential and general elections of May 2002. You are about to take a further, hugely significant, step with the holding of the first local elections for over 30 years. This will be the first step towards a comprehensive process of decentralisation that is needed to bring the government fully back into people’s lives of the rural areas and to show that government can deliver services to them. The preparations are, I hope, on track for elections before the rains. As you know we have been a major supporter of the registration process now taking place, and following the completion of registration, I will consider what further support Britain might provide towards any remaining steps leading to the elections themselves. I will do so in the light of the conditions for our support agreed with your government. I would like in passing to say how impressed we have been by the part that UNAMSIL has played in the registration process. It is perhaps not sufficiently recognised outside Sierra Leone how extensive the peacekeeping role is, and how wide-ranging and flexible the role of UNAMSIL has been.
There have been remarkable achievements since that symbolic declaration at the beginning of 2002. All of the country is accessible and secure. The Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process has been completed. The economy is growing. Macro-economic management has been sound, and has been recognised as such by the International Financial Institutions. Co-operation between the government and donors on the strengthening of public expenditure management has made encouraging progress. I am pleased also to know that you are reforming the public procurement system. I am very encouraged by the steps that have been taken to improve transparency through processes of public expenditure tracking and the creation of budget oversight committees. I congratulate the government on the setting up of the National Revenue Authority; maximising revenue is essential if there are to be the funds for public support for service delivery. These are commendable steps.
In November 2002, we signed a Long Term Partnership Agreement, committing Britain to continued support over a 10 year period. Our intention was to assure Sierra Leone that we would be a partner over the length of period needed to make an impression on the huge issues the country is having to face. A key feature of the Agreement is the inclusion of agreed benchmarks for reform. Performance against these determines the level of our budgetary support. The benchmarks complement those agreed at the Consultative Group meeting in November 2002, which are kept under the review by the Development Partnership Committee. I look forward to taking part in tomorrow’s DEPAC meeting. We have found the benchmarking approach useful. It is a good way to focus on the main issues. Progress against the benchmarks has been mixed, as one would expect in the case of a country recently coming out of a major conflict. As I say, we have been encouraged by the progress in areas such as public financial management. We recognise the obstacles blocking rapid progress in some areas of governance reform, although there have in this area too been achievements. It has been most pleasing that the reviews of progress on the benchmarks have been conducted with a frankness on both sides that draws upon the closeness of the relationship between our countries. I want, if I may, to take advantage of that established pattern of frankness in moving on to the topic on which I want mainly to focus my remarks. That topic is corruption.
Two years ago, here in Freetown, Clare Short gave a speech in which she emphasised the urgent need to take decisive action on corruption if Sierra Leone was to be secure and to address the poverty affecting the majority of your people. She chose to devote a key speech to this issue for a very good reason. This is that no matter what the achievements of Sierra Leone are in the whole range of developmental challenges, they are all liable to be fatally undermined by corruption. One of the key attributes of corruption is that its effects are seen by people in all areas of society and at all levels. They do not need to be told about it. It affects their lives every day. Quite apart from its practical or material effects in denying the people their rights and perpetuating inequity, it contributes to a pervasive sense that, fundamentally, things have not really changed. It feeds a sense of hopelessness. It is conducive to apathy and undermines the sense of civic pride. It threatens everything.
I would like today to consider what progress has been made on this critical issue, and what remains to be done. I am prompted to do so in part by the findings of the survey conducted by your government as part of the current security sector review, which asked what people saw as the main threat to Sierra Leone’s future security. The responses showed that, in the opinion of the people of this country, the biggest threat to future security is the prevalence of corruption. We should reflect on that. It implies that ill-intentioned groups will be able to appeal to the wider public, who might not otherwise be supportive of rebellion, and draw on their knowledge of corruption in their everyday lives to claim that nothing really changes. This is dangerous.
We also now have the report of the survey of views of corruption published by the World Bank Institute. It shows that, in the view of the people of Sierra Leone, corruption remains widespread and largely unchecked. I understand also that the number of cases being brought to the attention of the Anti Corruption Commission by members of the public has dropped markedly. If this indicates a loss of confidence that action will be taken against corruption, it is an indicator that should be taken very seriously indeed. These signs of the public mood, especially when linked to worries about security, should be of great concern to the government.
It is disappointing that there is this perception, by those whose lives are most affected, that corruption remains so significant and so prevalent. It suggests that the efforts made to address this issue, including those that Britain has supported, have not convinced the people that changes are taking place. Why is this? And what should be done about it? I hope that in asking these questions, you will accept that I do so with the frankness of a friend of this country. I want in particular to suggest that there must be a renewed and intensive interest in transparency in public life and public administration, so that the people have a sense that the long-established practices with which they are so wearily familiar are changing for the better. This requires action not only by government itself, but also support for action by others and steps to help people feel that their voices are heard and that they have a way to influence events.
It should hardly be necessary to restate the harm that corruption does. Corruption is corrosive. It eats away at and undermines all other achievements of government. It has enormous impact on the economic growth of the country. If there is to be employment for the youth of Sierra Leone those jobs must be created by economic growth. You are all aware of the dangers of a lack of things to do for young people, and of a sense on their part, not only that their personal futures are uncertain, but most dangerously that others in society continue to profit from corrupt behaviour. We know that the level of growth needed depends on investment but what deters investors from coming to Sierra Leone? Of course, there are problems of lack of infrastructure, caused in part by the recent conflict. There are legal and regulatory barriers that must be addressed. But can investors be confident that they will be able to go about their business without having to defer to established corrupt practices? There has been at least one organised visit by expatriate Sierra Leoneans intended to encourage investment by them here. Why has so little come of this? Is it not at least in part because they are not prepared to submit themselves to the need to connive in corrupt practices?
Britain has been a major supporter of the Anti Corruption Commission. We have made it a continuing condition of our 10 year Agreement that firm action on corruption be taken. I welcome the commitments the Government has made as benchmarks for action in 2004. These include the formation of a cross-Government anti-corruption task force and the publication by individual ministries of anti-corruption strategies. I am pleased that the Government has made these commitments.
The Anti Corruption Commission has been diligent in collecting evidence of apparent cases of corruption. I congratulate the Commissioner for the energy and commitment he has put into this. But what has been the result in terms of outcomes in court? Has the public seen the corrupt punished? Where are the decisive steps needed to convince the people that the campaign against corruption is getting to where it hurts? We have supported the Commonwealth Secretariat in providing judges to strengthen the capacity of the judiciary to take action on cases sent for trial. I commend the work that our Commonwealth colleagues are doing. But can we say that there is a public perception that the issue is being addressed energetically? The surveys I have referred to suggest not. And until the people are convinced, until they see the evidence both in their everyday lives and in what happens at the top of their society, the problem, I suggest, is not and will not be solved.
So what needs to be done? This is a question both of action and perception. Specific steps need to be taken to improve transparency and accountability in public life. But perhaps even more important is that there should be a public perception that there is the determination and political will to see corruption attacked. There are areas on which we need to focus.
First: Public Accountability. Fighting corruption is not merely a question of investigations by the Commission and action by the judicial system. Parliamentary Committees, civil society and the media all have important roles, in preventing and detecting corruption. There have been reports by, for example, the Public Accounts Committee, alleging specific corruption involving public funds. What action has been taken on them? Legislation has been in place for 6 years enabling the Auditor General’s Office to be set up at arms length from government. This is a key step in demonstrating transparency. I understand that steps have been taken to establish the Auditor General’s Office in the way provided for by the legislation. I welcome that. The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service remains under the effective control of Government. When will it be given independent corporate status? All of these are areas in which the government has the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to greater transparency.
Second: Diamonds. There have been welcome improvements in the management of the diamonds sector. The adoption of a Core Minerals Policy is an important step. But we need a comprehensive diamonds strategy to which donors, including ourselves, can give support. If this area is seen to be under effective control, it will give an enormously important signal about the kind of progress Sierra Leone is making. Tomorrow I will be visiting Kono, and seeing something of the work being done to support the sector. But we need to have an overall government strategy to which everyone works.
Third: A Poverty Reduction Strategy. I referred earlier to the central importance of producing a Poverty Reduction Strategy. A publicly owned and supported strategy is critical to a sense that the Government and people have agreed on the steps to be taken to attack poverty. That won’t happen unless the strategy is clear about the action to be taken on the corruption that has contributed to Sierra Leone’s position at the bottom of the Human Development Index.
Fourth: A National Strategy on Corruption. This is a stated objective of the Government, but it has awaited the report of the National Corruption Survey. We now have that report. This must be a strategy in which the people have confidence. It must go far wider than the actions of the Anti Corruption Commission. It is not sufficient to leave matters to the Commission, good as its efforts are. The fight against corruption is one for all areas of government. Each government Ministry and agency must have a public policy on corruption and should publicise the action it is taking.
Fifth: Public Financial Management. Much good work has been done in this area, as I have already acknowledged.. This should be strengthened by a full Country Financial Accountability Assessment, and a programme to follow up the recent Public Expenditure Review. In every aspect of public life, the maximum transparency must be promoted.
Much of what I have referred to is action needed by government. It is essential that the government demonstrates the political will to deal with corruption. Unfortunately, it is likely that the poor results to date to tackle corruption through the judicial system are seen by many citizens of Sierra Leone as confirmation that there is not the will to act. It is important that government is open and transparent and that it is seen to be clean. In all of the areas I have referred to, Britain is providing support. We will continue to do so. But I want to expand our efforts to combat this insidious threat to Sierra Leone’s future security and prosperity. The fight against it should be as broad as possible. We know from our own government’s experience that we are kept on our toes by the scrutiny and indeed the pressure of those outside government. I want the DFID team to look for opportunities to strengthen the hand of civil society in achieving greater transparency in public life. We are in the process of finalising programmes to bolster parliamentary scrutiny and to support civil society to organise itself to provide an effective voice for the people of Sierra Leone. I realise that the issue of a stronger role for civil society is one on which there are some concerns in government. I understand this. But I hope that the government will accept that you cannot deal with problems so pervasive as corruption without involving all of your resources, inside and outside government. I suggest that the Government arranges for a forum to be set up that brings in civil society and determines the respective roles of the representatives from government. We are willing to provide support. It is only by bringing all our firepower to bear that this menace will be overcome. But we need a renewed and more comprehensive approach to which we can respond. I look forward to our cooperating to deal with this threat to all that this country and the international community have tried to achieve in helping to bring Sierra Leone out of chaos. We remain committed to this task, and so do you. We remain steadfast in our help as you work to help yourselves. We remain of the view that Sierra Leone has a better future if the gain of the last two years are built upon and not dissipated.
All these choices are yours to make. And as you make them we will be there to help you.