19 June 2008
General AssemblyPBC/35
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Peacebuilding Commission

Sierra Leone configuration

4th Meeting (AM)



Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister Describes Gains, Obstacles; Speakers Urge

Sharper Coordination, Well-Prioritized Aims; Carolyn McAskie Addresses Meeting

Following the adoption on 12 December 2007 of its Cooperation Framework with the Government of Sierra Leone, the Peacebuilding Commission today adopted the conclusions and recommendations of its first-ever biannual review of its implementation. 

The document (document PBC/2/SLE/L.1), adopted without a vote today, contains the Commission’s recommendations for the Government of Sierra Leone, the United Nations and international partners, and outlines the role of the Peacebuilding Commission, itself, in the implementation of the Framework’s priority areas.  Those include the development of the country’s energy sector strategy; implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; consultations on the report of the Constitutional Review Commission; regional cooperation within the framework of the Mano River Union; finalization of the Government’s decisions on the aid coordination architecture; and domestic revenue generation.

Reporting on a Peacebuilding Commission field visit to Sierra Leone on 1-7 June, the Commission’s Chairman, Frank Majoor (Netherlands), said that the delegation had met with the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Speaker and leaders of the Parliament, members of the National Electoral Commission, bilateral and multilateral partners, civil society organizations, the private sector and United Nations representatives.

He said that the delegation had observed that significant progress had been made in the implementation of a number of commitments contained in the Peacebuilding Framework, notably in the areas of justice and security sector reform, anti-corruption efforts, energy sector development and preparations for the local elections.  However, additional and more targeted efforts were needed in the areas of youth employment and empowerment, capacity-building and national reconciliation.  The delegation had underscored that the next six months would be critical for peace consolidation in Sierra Leone.

The Government had set up an ambitious reform agenda and reaffirmed its commitment to implementing the Cooperation Framework and its partnership with the Peacebuilding Commission, he said.  Another important development related to the transition from a United Nations peacekeeping mission to an Integrated Peacebuilding Office.  Although Sierra Leone remained peaceful and stable, numerous problems, including food insecurity, unemployment, lack of basic services and crippling mortality rates, made the life of ordinary Sierra Leoneans difficult.

Thanking the Commission and the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) for their support, Sierra Leone’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Vadi Minah, said the country had made progress in the areas of justice and security sector reform.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with funding from the Peacebuilding Fund and other donors, had established a Human Rights Commission, which was now fully operational and poised to take its activities beyond the capital.  In addition, the Cabinet had just received a report on the ongoing constitutional review process, paving the way for the next stage of consultations, which was expected to involve members of civil society.

He said that, to ensure good governance, the country’s Parliament had given its full support to a newly established anti-corruption commission and was looking to invest that body with prosecutorial powers.  The electoral commission was about to face its next big test with the upcoming local council elections, for which preparations were well-advanced.  On other fronts, the Parliament had recently passed a company bankruptcy act, intended to create the necessary environment for private sector development.  However, because the protracted civil conflict had caused skilled professionals to flee, not least in the civil service, the Government would continue to seek cooperation from development partners and the Commission.  Also, rising fuel and food prices were being felt all too keenly in Sierra Leone, but the Government was committed not to let that become a distraction.  The Prime Minister had attended a high-level meeting in New York recently to mobilize support, while the President had recently declared the agricultural sector a priority investment area for development partners. 

Speakers in the debate that followed expressed appreciation for the progress achieved since the adoption of the Framework and outlined the main remaining challenges, which related to the fragility of the country’s overall economic situation and the impact of the global food crisis and rising oil prices.  Among other areas that required attention, speakers noted the need to develop the country’s capacity, improve infrastructure, generate youth employment, confront the brain drain, and continue the development of the energy sector.  Also highlighted was the importance of the regional dimension of peacebuilding.

As pointed out by the Chairman at the conclusion of the meeting, it emerged during the discussion that the priorities set for the Framework were still very relevant.  Now, it was important to make clear linkage with other programming exercises in Sierra Leone to ensure an encompassing, complementary and transparent process.  Regarding resources and capacities, speakers noted that a lot of attention should be given to assisting the Government in dealing with the civil sector.  In delivering resources, consideration should be given to how transparency and the functioning of multi-donor mechanisms could be improved.  “The better it works, the more funds these mechanisms will attract,” the Chair said.

Among other crucial issues, he also mentioned advocacy, which was “terribly important”.  Advocacy started in your Member States’ own capitals, and peers should be encouraged to take part in the process.  He called on all stakeholders to help to promote the idea that the Peacebuilding Commission could and would work, with appropriate assistance.

Many speakers emphasized the crucial role of the Commission in its collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone in the coming months.  They welcomed the recommendations adopted today and underlined the importance of national ownership of the process.  Several speakers stressed the need to continue to provide maximum support to the election process.

A number of delegates, including the representative of the European Commission, emphasized the importance of a sustainable and viable coordination mechanism, with “better division of labour among donors”.  He expressed great interest in Sierra Leone’s new-generation poverty reduction strategy paper, which -– as pointed out in the review recommendations -- should be conflict-sensitive, contain well-prioritized objectives and provide linkages with the Cooperation Framework.  It was pointed out, in that regard, that the development of such a poverty reduction strategy paper could play an important role, not only in the country’s development, but also in attracting new donors.

The representative of Luxembourg stressed the importance of having a robust methodology for carrying out the Commission’s regular assessments of the Framework’s implementation, which could evaluate the progress achieved and identify the gaps remaining to be addressed.  Monitoring and tracking mechanisms should be based on the strong involvement of all stakeholders.

Among the Commission’s main activities, the representative of the United Kingdom emphasized the need to use its international legitimacy to assist the Government towards more effective priority setting and speak frankly to the donors about the main priorities in Sierra Leone.  She also stressed the obligation of all players to ensure that the Peacebuilding Commission was as effective and efficient as possible.  The Commission should continue to explore streamlined and improved methods of conducting country-specific meetings.  Focus should be on the action on the ground, contributing to peace consolidation.

In connection with the concern expressed by the United Kingdom that less than half of the amount in the Peacebuilding Fund had been programmed, with less than half of that spent, the Chairman of the Commission said that the pieces were now in place, and from now on, the Fund should work much better.  The new leadership at the United Nations could help to move things forward, and he hoped the new configuration of UNIOSIL would allow for more assistance with respect to the programmes of the Peacebuilding Fund.  The Government was also taking more leadership.

In that connection, India’s representative said that a coordinated, urgent and effective response was needed.  While emphasizing the role of the United Nations and the Commission in that regard, he also made an analogy to lifting all four corners of the handkerchief with one hand.  The Government should decide which corner it wanted to pick up first.

Responding to Japan’s concern regarding suspension of regular meetings between the Government of Sierra Leone and international partners, Deputy Foreign Minister Minah said that the process had undergone a temporary hiatus.  The President and Government of Sierra Leone were fully committed to an effective and regular process of exchanges with the donor community, and steps had been taken to re-energize that process.  The process was a novel one, which required collective efforts and honesty to point out where the gaps and constraints were, not only for the Government, but also for the donor community and the Commission.

Speaking to the Commission through video conferencing from Freetown, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, Michael V. der Schulenberg, highlighted the forthcoming local elections and the transition from a peacekeeping operation to a peacebuilding mission among the issues of great importance for the country’s future.  He also described last week’s inauguration of an opposition party’s radio station as a unique event, which testified to the development of the code of conduct that should prevail for the elections:  the main opposition party had invited and warmly welcomed the President at the inauguration.  It was also significant that the United Nations would have a lower profile in the forthcoming elections.  “The reason we can step back is that institutions for the elections have matured,” he said.

Within some eight or nine years, the Organization had been able to transition from one of the largest peacekeeping missions to a much smaller peacebuilding office in Sierra Leone, with growing ownership of national authorities, he said.  Now, it was important to redefine the objectives, together with the Government.  Resolving certain outstanding issues would make the work of the international community more transparent.  Those issues included streamlining objectives, focusing activities and developing easier and more transparent implementation mechanisms.  On the funding mechanism, agreement had been reached with the United Nations Development Programme to review the handling of the Peacebuilding Fund and other basket funds to give the Government clear leadership and open the funds, not only to the international community, but also to non-governmental organizations and other partners.

“We have an extraordinary opportunity to see a country that has gone through the worst, achieve the best,” said Carolyn McAskie, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.

Addressing the Commission for the last time in her current capacity, Ms. McAskie said that, two years ago, no one could have foreseen how far the Commission would go.  Selection of Sierra Leone as one of the early partners of the Peacebuilding Commission had been fortunate.  The work on the Sierra Leone configuration had allowed the Commission to test the concepts of accompaniment and build a real partnership with the Government, while also developing the concept of national ownership, supported by the international community.

“We are learning on the job, and we have learned on the job,” she said, adding that she would be leaving behind strong recommendations for her successor; for she hoped there would be continuity within the Peacebuilding Commission.

Expressing appreciation to Ms. McAskie, the Chair said that, together with her colleagues, Ms. McAskie had done a great job in setting up the Peacebuilding Support Office.  He also elaborated on “the difficulty of being the new kid on the block and finding your position that is necessary to implement the objectives set by the international community”.

Also participating in the discussion were the representatives of Bangladesh, Italy, Norway, Japan, France, Sweden and South Africa.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.