|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6291st Meeting (AM)
Youth Unemployment Poses ‘Latent Threat’ to Sierra Leone’s Stability,
Top Officials Warn in Security Council Briefing
Sacking of Ministers Hailed as ‘Strong Signal’ in Anti-corruption Efforts
While improvements in Sierra Leone’s political climate were seen as inching the country towards eventual sustainable development, senior United Nations officials warned the Security Council today that the magnitude and political significance of youth unemployment posed a latent risk of instability in the West African nation struggling to consolidate peace and stimulate development.
Briefing the Council this morning, Michael Schulenburg, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Political Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), said there had been relatively few tangible programmes to make a significant impact on the lives of the sizable number of jobless young people. However, following the Peacebuilding Commission’s recent visit to Sierra Leone, Government ministers and development partners had agreed over the last few days to develop one integrated national programme in support of creating employment opportunities for the youth in various economic sectors. The plan’s joint outline would be presented to the Peacebuilding Commission on Friday, he said.
Concerned that the Commission had been unsuccessful in raising the necessary financial resources to implement its strategy for Sierra Leone, he said the lack of funding could jeopardize its new peacebuilding approach in the country. The Commission was seeking to mobilize only $200 million, he said, noting that that additional funding for four years of peacebuilding in Sierra Leone was equivalent to the costs expended in only four months of the previous peacekeeping operation, back in 2004.
Also briefing Council members, John McNee ( Canada), Chair of the Sierra Leone Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, agreed that youth unemployment required special attention, noting that many of the country’s young people were idle, concentrated in urban areas and frustrated by social marginalization. Both the Government and its international partners were moving to address that challenge, he said, noting that a Youth Commission Act had been adopted in December 2009. The Government had established a commission as a focal point for youth policies, while a working group sought to stimulate jobs. The Commission’s Sierra Leone configuration would meet on Friday to identify outstanding needs and consider how to support the momentum, he said.
While there had been progress towards inclusive democratic politics, the Commission’s meetings in Sierra Leonehad revealed significant divisions, he said, adding that the country should also be commended for its efforts to fight corruption. In particular, the removal of three Cabinet Ministers over the last year sent a strong signal, he said, cautioning, however, that corruption remained a serious problem throughout society, inhibiting foreign direct investment, among other consequences. Drug trafficking was another area of concern, he added.
Nevertheless the country had made “remarkable progress”, which represented a “multilateral success story”, he said. The United Nations had transformed its involvement in Sierra Leone from a major peacekeeping operation into the current integrated peacebuilding office, though it would be a mistake to underestimate the remaining obstacles on Sierra Leone‘s progress towards long-term development. In particular, continuing attention and assistance was needed in the period leading up to the 2012 general elections. Reiterating the call for greater funding for peacebuilding, he said it would be a great shame if complacency at the present stage of peace consolidation undermined the progress made to date.
Sierra Leone’s representative assured the Council of the Government’s commitment to promoting good governance, human rights, gender equality, decentralization, transparency and accountability. It was also determined to establish a culture of political tolerance among the country’s main political parties. Stressing the effectiveness of the Anti-Corruption Commission, he repeated President’s Ernest Bai Koroma’s pledge that there would be no “sacred cows” in Government, nor any minister or official found “wanting in moral probity”. He added that youth unemployment was indeed one of the country’s thorniest challenges, which the Government was determined to remedy.
The meeting began at 10:45 a.m. and ended at 11:20 a.m.
The Security Council had before it the Fourth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (document S/2010/135), which welcomes improvements in the political climate, while noting remaining challenges to the fostering of political tolerance and promoting non-violence.
“There is an urgent need to build trust and mutual confidence between major political parties,” the report says of the Office created to keep the country from slipping back into the violence that marked the decade-long civil war which ended in 2002. It expresses the Secretary-General’s particular appreciation for the recognition by President Ernest Bai Koroma of the serious threat posed by corruption.
Noting recent clashes between the governing All People’s Congress (APC) and the major opposition group, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), the report calls on both to abide by the code of conduct contained in the joint communiqué of 2 April 2009, warning that the clashes do not augur well for the country’s peace and stability, nor for the presidential elections scheduled for 2012.
Looking at development within the country, the Secretary-General appeals to the international community to fill an anticipated shortfall in donor funding for implementation of the Government’s Agenda for Change, the national poverty reduction plan which focuses on ensuring a reliable power supply; increasing productivity in agriculture and fisheries; improving the national transportation network; and boosting social services. The attainment of these goals will in turn help improve the difficult socio-economic indicators that have all contributed to making Sierra Leone a fragile State, notwithstanding the progress it has achieved thus far, he says.
The Secretary-General also calls on Sierra Leone‘s international development partners to provide additional support to the National Human Rights Commission and the Government’s Special Trust Fund for War Victims, and requests Member States to donate vehicles and boats for security-sector agencies to improve their ability to fight organized crime.
According to the report, the aid policy endorsed at the Sierra Leone Consultative Group meeting of 18 and 19 November 2009 will pave the way to improving the aid coordination architecture. Discussions on the details of that architecture were held in January 2010, with the aim of making the new coordination structure operational, thereby allowing the United Nations and other partners better to support the Government’s agenda for change.
MICHAEL VON DER SCHULENBURG, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, highlighting recent developments detailed in the fourth report on the activities of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) (document S/2010/135), said that despite the magnitude and political significance of the country’s youth unemployment problem, relatively little progress had been made in addressing it. Many plans and assessments over the past two years had resulted in relatively few tangible programmes that could have a significant impact on the lives of a sizable number of young people, he said, adding that responsibility for that must be shared equally by the Government and its international development partners.
Largely as a result of the Peacebuilding Commission’s recent visit to Sierra Leone, he said, Government ministers and development partners had come together over the last few days and agreed to develop one integrated national programme in support of creating youth employment opportunities in various economic sectors. On the Government side, that programme would be led by the Youth Commissioner and include several line ministries and national authorities, while on the international side, it would combine technical and financial support from the World Bank, International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the European Community, among others. The joint outline for the programme would be presented to the Peacebuilding Commission on Friday, he said.
Turning to the issue of drug trafficking, he said tangible progress had been made in fighting the illicit trade over the past six months, and pointed to the establishment of the Joint Drug Interdiction Task Force, which had begun its work. With the help of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and in accordance with the West Africa Coast Initiative, the Task Force would be upgraded to a Transnational Crime Unit, he said, noting that United Nations police were also engaged in that effort.
Closely linked to fighting international crime, he continued, was the urgent need to beef up coastal security to combat not only maritime drug trafficking, but also illegal fishing and the beginnings of human trafficking and piracy. Last October, the Peacebuilding Commission had launched an appeal for two de-commissioned 30-metre patrol vessels, one each for Sierra Leone and Liberia. Hopefully, the appeal would succeed, thereby allowing those two countries to work together in fighting a common threat to their peace and development.
In terms of fighting corruption, Sierra Leone had taken some unprecedented bold steps over the past few months, including a string of arrests and convictions, he said. On 11 March, for example, the former Health Minister had been sentenced to five years in prison on corruption charges, and on 15 March, the Fisheries Minister and his Permanent Secretary had been indicted on corruption charges and relieved of their duties.
He said the last case in particular was of great political significance as the indicted Fisheries Minister had a strong following within the governing party and had played a crucial role in securing its nomination for the 2007 elections. Closely connected to the corruption issue was the need for proper management of the country’s rich mineral and natural resources. A recently-concluded contract for mining iron ore had raised considerable criticism and concern among knowledgeable experts, he said, emphasizing that a newly-enacted mining law should apply to all mining contracts.
Looking ahead, he said the country would hold important presidential, parliamentary and local elections in 2012. That would pose very difficult and complex challenges, and special efforts would be required to ensure the polls were fair, transparent and free from violence. Unfortunately, increasingly ethnic-based politics had led to a country largely divided, north from south, along ethnic and political lines.
Recent by-elections had indicated a further deepening of that divide, he continued, emphasizing that the joint communiqué signed by political parties a year ago formed the true basis of dialogue aimed at mitigating major political, economic and social problem areas that could have a negative impact the elections. However, there was not much cause for concern that the situation in neighbouring Guinea could spill over into Sierra Leone, he said.
In conclusion, he said the Peacebuilding Commission had not been successful so far in raising the necessary financial resources to implement its peacebuilding strategy, warning that the lack of funding could ultimately jeopardize its new approach. The Commission was seeking to mobilize only $200 million, through its Multi-Donor Trust Fund. That additional funding for four years of peacebuilding was equivalent to the cost of only four months of the previous peacekeeping operation, back in 2004, he noted.
JOHN MCNEE (Canada), Chair, Sierra Leone Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, reported on the recent mission to the country, saying that the delegation’s size and authority had demonstrated the level of interest in Sierra Leone. The Peacebuilding Commission had aligned its engagement with the country’s own peacebuilding priorities, focusing on good governance, youth employment and drug trafficking, and the visit had been an opportunity to take stock and consider the Commission’s future contribution. The delegation had met with President Koroma as well as national and district officials, political parties, civil society, youth and diplomats, who had underlined recent progress, highlighted major challenges and provided insights into the current political and societal dynamics.
He noted that the situation remained calm and the Political Parties Registration Commission had engaged with political parties to foster constructive dialogue while mitigating the possibility of politically-motivated violence. Campaigns to promote tolerance had also been conducted outside Freetown and with the youth wings of the political parties. Notwithstanding the progress made, however, the meetings had revealed significant divisions, and the promotion of inclusive democratic politics was increasingly important, he stressed.
Mutual trust and inter-party dialogue was limited, he continued, noting a trend towards regional and ethnic polarization, as well as increasing politicization of elections for paramount chieftaincies. There had also been isolated incidents of political violence, illustrating the potential for further instability, he said, warning that the temptation to depart from peaceful and inclusive politics increased as the 2012 general elections approached. All actors must work towards more tolerant and cooperative politics, buttressed by progress in peacebuilding.
Emphasizing that Sierra Leone should be commended for its efforts to fight corruption, he pointed to the removal of three Cabinet Ministers over the last year, adding the Anti-Corruption Commission was using its independence and authority to prosecute graft, improve public systems, and conduct outreach. Sierra Leone’s rise in the Transparency International index was another concrete sign of success, he said, cautioning, nonetheless, that corruption remained a serious problem throughout society, inhibiting foreign direct investment, among other consequences.
Other aspects of governance, such as decentralization, had improved, he said, noting the enhanced responsibility of local governments in national development. Critical work was also under way to improve national police capacity, particularly with respect to civil disturbances and drug interdictions. The importance of an adequately-resourced police force ahead of the elections could not be overemphasized, he said, stressing also that youth unemployment required special attention. Many idle youth were concentrated in urban areas and frustrated by social marginalization, which represented a latent risk of political instability.
Both the Government and international partners were moving to address that challenge, he said, noting that a Youth Commission Act had been adopted in December 2009. The Government had established a commission as a focal point for youth policies, and a working group was seeking to stimulate jobs. The Peacebuilding Commission’s Sierra Leone configuration would meet on Friday to identify outstanding needs and consider how to support the momentum. Drug trafficking was a third area of concern, and Sierra Leone, a key participant in the West African Coast Initiative, had developed an integrated approach to the problem that was a model for the region, he said.
Describing Sierra Leone as a “multilateral success story”, he said the United Nations had transformed its involvement in the country from a major peacekeeping operation into the current peacebuilding office. The remaining peacebuilding priorities represented the final obstacles before the country could proceed to long-term development. “It would be a mistake to underestimate them,” he warned, however, adding that Sierra Leone required continuing attention and assistance, particularly in the period leading up to the 2012 elections.
He said greater funding would directly reinforce the innovative work carried out by the United Nations thus far. The Organization’s integrated approach deserved the international community’s strongest support, as it was a successful model of how national and international actors, including the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, could work together to build sustainable peace, even after the most devastating conflict. It would be a great shame if complacency at the present stage of peace consolidation undermined the progress made to date, he said in conclusion.
RUPERT DAVIES ( Sierra Leone), describing the Secretary-General’s report as comprehensive and well-coordinated, thanked United Nations entities in his country for their determination to keep peacebuilding efforts “in full gear”, and pledged that the Government remained fully committed to consolidating peace and promoting sustained economic growth. The Government was also committed to promoting good governance, human rights, gender equality, decentralization, transparency and accountability, he said, emphasizing also its determination to establish a culture of political tolerance among the main political parties.
Stressing the effectiveness of the Anti-Corruption Commission, he reiterated President Koroma’s pledge that there would be no “sacred cows” in Government, nor any minister or official “found wanting in moral probity”. The Government’s efforts had recently been recognized by the World Bank and the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index, he added.
However, one of the thorniest challenges was youth unemployment, he said, outlining programmes to address it and appealing to donors to fulfil their commitments to provide assistance in that area. As for peace and stability, the Government continued to work with regional and international efforts against illicit drug trafficking. Organized cross-border crime also remained a real menace, and UNIPSIL’s engagement in that area, as well as in elections and other efforts, would be needed for “many more years to come”, he stressed.
* *** *