|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6609th Meeting* (AM)
Reinforcing Progress in Sierra Leone Critical to Averting Resurgence of Tensions,
Secretary-General’s Executive Representative Tells Security Council
Members Hear from Peacebuilding Commission Configuration, Foreign Minister
Sierra Leone was continuing to develop into a “stable, peaceful and economically more viable democracy”, but it was critical on the eve of general elections to reinforce that progress further to avert a resurgence of the tensions that had helped ignite the devastating civil war, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative in that country told the Security Council today.
“We all must not forget that military coups and the horrors of the civil war are part of a very recent history,” warned Michael von der Schulenburg, who also heads the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), as he introduced the latest report on the Office.
“The 2012 elections must not become hostage to the past,” he reiterated, expressing hope that agreement could quickly be reached on the legal framework for the upcoming presidential, legislative and local elections, as well as a new code of conduct governing election campaigns. He noted that clashes had occurred recently between followers of the two main political parties and among supporters of different groups within them. “Elections are still one-and-a-half years away and this must not start to embitter the social and political climate of Sierra Leone,” he stressed.
Particularly serious was an attack three days ago on Julius Maada Bio, presidential candidate of the Sierra Leone’s People’s Party, the main opposition group, and a subsequent rampage, he said. Noting that responsibility for the attack was not yet clear, and that President Ernest Bai Koroma had acted quickly to set up an investigation, he said the police had stepped up security for the opposition leader. “However, this brings into the open that there remains a persistent social undercurrent potential that can turn into violence if provoked — despite all the progress that has been made,” the Executive Representative warned.
However, there were hopeful signs for a peaceful election process, he said, including the peaceful conduct of the Sierra Leone People’s Party conference that had nominated Mr. Bio, even though it had taken place in the capital, Freetown, a stronghold of the governing party All People’s Congress. The media coverage of that conference had been generally lauded as fair, balanced and informative in a major test for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, created after the agreed closing of all party- and Government-controlled radio stations following the 2009 political disturbances.
While all candidates at the conference considered the intra-party elections fair, concern had been raised because the presidential candidate and the party chairman had both played prominent roles in previous military coups, he said, adding: “I trust that both recognize the need to dispel such concerns.” He welcomed Mr. Bio’s recent public apology for the wrongs committed under military Governments in which he had held high office, as well as President Koroma’s proposal, supported by Mr. Bio, for an all-inclusive, non-partisan national conference to discuss the country’s future direction as the post-conflict reconstruction period drew to an end and the beginning of a new era of economic and social development approached. Careful consultations and preparations would be needed for such a conference to become truly all-inclusive, he said.
Turning to the development front, he said the Government had successfully expanded road and electricity distribution networks, and revived agricultural production. It had pursued the privatization of the Freetown seaport and national telecommunications and was mobilizing international private investment, especially in the extractive industries and agro-business, he said, noting that new iron ore projects due to start exporting this year could dramatically change Sierra Leone’s financial fortunes. However, those resources must be managed in a transparent manner to benefit all Sierra Leoneans, he emphasized, noting that “persistent poverty, youth unemployment and problems in delivering social services” remained the “Achilles heel for Sierra Leone’s future development”.
He went on to state that high inflation rates for basic commodities had eroded the purchasing power of fixed-income earners in the city, to which many young people had been drawn, cautioning that such a situation could easily foment social unrest. While there had been an improvement in the provision of social services, with free health care and other programmes, problems in delivering them to the target population persisted, he said, describing corruption, bureaucracy and low capacity as probably being at their core. Greater Government cooperation with development partners and the private sector was also needed to ensure effectiveness and accurate targeting of programmes.
Also briefing the Council were Guillermo Rishchynski ( Canada), Chair of the Sierra Leone Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, and Joseph Dauda, Sierra Leone’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Rishchynski agreed that Sierra Leone’s “remarkable success story” stood poised to shift its national strategic focus from peacebuilding to economic development, but the process was not quite finished, and the country would continue to require support. Emphasizing the need for the main political parties to engage in a more open, regular and productive high-level dialogue, he said it was critical that the relationship between relevant national bodies — including the Electoral Commission and the Political Parties Registration Commission — continued to improve.
Lasting solutions to many of Sierra Leone’s challenges would depend on increasing private-sector investment, he said, stressing that good governance was essential in spurring that process. In that vein, the Anti-Corruption Commission continued to advance its ambitious agenda, which had yielded steady progress in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” rankings. Those efforts must continue and accelerate, he said, noting that Sierra Leone had taken sensible short-term steps with respect to youth unemployment. International partners should seize that opportunity to begin implementing the recommendations of the 2011 World Development Report and invest in Sierra Leone’s long-term success.
Regarding other challenges, he recalled that earlier this year, a regional meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission‘s West African configurations had been held to address drug trafficking and organized crime. Limited capacity within the region continued to hinder the adequate tracking of financial flows to effectively counteract that challenge, he said. As for the Sierra Leone Configuration’s forthcoming activities, he said that in October, a joint meeting involving the Government, the United Nations and other international partners would consider the country’s second annual joint progress report. He added that he intended to convene a meeting to assess preparations for the 2012 elections.
Minister Dauda stressed that his country looked forward to working to consolidate the gains made to date and to a successful transition in the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s long conflict. The Secretary-General’s report accurately catalogued the progress made and remaining challenges, and the Government would continue to engage with all stakeholders, as demonstrated by the establishment, in conjunction with UNIPSIL, of the All Political Parties Youth Association and the All Political Parties Women’s Association. There had been progress in enhancing the participation of women in politics, he said, noting that 14.5 per cent of those holding political office — nearly half the target level — were now women.
The Government, he said, remained committed to conducting peaceful, free, fair, credible and transparent elections in 2012, as demonstrated by the conducive atmosphere created for the Sierra Leone People’s Party nominating convention. The National Electoral Commission and the Political Parties Registration Commission enjoyed the independence to deliver effectively on their constitutional mandate, free of interference. Efforts were also being made to consider reform of the electoral process, he said, adding that successful elections would be a “benchmark and indicator in assessing whether meaningful peace and stability have really taken firm root”.
He said the Government was equally committed and responsive to concerns raised in the report regarding the mining sector and the management of natural resources. By improving governance of the sector and ensuring greater transparency, it had sought support from its development partners to build the capacity of the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources. Continued international support was still needed, particularly for the National Electoral Commission, youth employment programmes, anti-corruption efforts, the reparation process, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and improved provision of resources to the national police. It was also important that stakeholders and international players were never seen as taking sides on issues of gross human rights violations, he said.
Other challenges facing the country included regional drug trafficking and organized crime, he said, adding that the prevailing global economic uncertainty was seriously hampering efforts for a rapid economic turn-around. Attracting foreign direct investment and ensuring a “conducive and purposeful business environment” remained critical to establishing a more secure Sierra Leone and in the protection of its citizens from fear and want, he said, emphasizing that the Government would continue relentlessly to pursue that objective. He concluded by calling the Council’s attention to a worrying increase in mercenary activities in the Mano River Basin, which could undermine stability. That problem required immediate collective action, he stressed.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 11:00 a.m.
Council members had before them the Seventh report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) covering the period 1 March to 31 August 2011.
In the report (document S/2011/554), the Secretary-General recommends the renewal of UNIPSIL’s mandate, which expires on 15 September, for a further year, saying that will allow the Office to assist in planning for the country’s 2012 elections, while continuing its work in peace consolidation and national reconciliation efforts, support for governance reforms, building support for international donor assistance, and helping the Government fight the major obstacles of corruption, drug trafficking, organized crime and youth unemployment.
According to the report, recent progress in peace consolidation and socio-economic development is a testimony to the Government’s untiring efforts and those of other actors whose contribution to promoting national cohesion, political tolerance and non-violence will remain critical before, during and after the planned elections. The Secretary-General urges all political parties and their supporters, in the lead-up to the start of voter registration, to help create an environment conducive to a democratic process, including a culture of constructive dialogue. The media should play a more constructive role in the electoral process and every effort should be made to strengthen the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, he adds.
Turning to the economic sphere, the Secretary-General encourages the strengthening of collaboration between the extractive sector and national and international partners in order to ensure the availability of revenues for the Government, which can generate employment opportunities. Strong accountability and transparency mechanisms are needed to attain sustainable economic growth and greater attention must be paid to minimizing poverty, inflationary pressures and youth unemployment, the report states.
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