The Sierra Leone Web


20 DECEMBER 2002


Mr. Chairman:

Let me first of all thank the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for the invitation to this annual dinner, and for giving me the opportunity once again to speak to its members, a body of people with a vital role to play in the rehabilitation and reconstruction process that lies ahead of us. I am also pleased to note that the Chamber of Commerce has now also added to its nomenclature "Industry and Agriculture," our main target areas for poverty reduction, growth and prosperity for this country.

Each and every one present here tonight is fully aware of the agonies and torment that have characterized our national life over the last decade. Today, we are thankful that that phase in out history is now largely behind us, notwithstanding the reconstruction work that has to be grappled with.

Against the backdrop of the realities of our immediate past, we are today firmly committed to building a viable democracy and prosperous society in Sierra Leone. We know that the road from conflict to democracy and prosperity is a long and arduous one. Our status as an emerging post-conflict society carries with it a special set of problems, in addition to the general problems associated with developing countries. However, these are challenges which I feel you, as a group, should view as an invitation to contribute meaningfully to the development of our country and to launch the revitalization of the private sector.

The prospects for the recovery and long-term prosperity of Sierra Leone, like any other country, will be determined by both domestic and external factors and the complex relationship between them. Internally, the quality of governance will have the greatest impact. Recognition of this fact has compelled us to devote a substantial amount of our meager resources to strengthening critical public institutions. We are also facilitating the growth of supporting democratic institutions, particularly civil society and the media. This is both a costly and time consuming endeavour that strains the capacity of government to address other competing and indeed complementary priorities like public health, education and peace building. At the same time we are also focused on providing a stable macroeconomic environment for the business community to provide jobs and create wealth.

We find ourselves at a crossroads in the history of Sierra Leone, and collectively we must choose wisely the path which we should follow.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

I offer no apology for repeating this over and over again, and re-emphasizing the role of partnership between government and the private sector in national development. We cannot afford to allow this opportunity to engage now in the participatory process of development to be wasted. Therefore, we must actively cultivate and build an enduring public/private partnership. This is a symbiotic process – the Government in collaboration with the private sector, where the Government provides the foundation upon which the private sector should build and flourish. Very simply, economic prosperity in any country cannot be realized without the active participation of a vibrant private sector.

The prosperity of a nation, any nation, does not depend on the efforts of government alone. The corollary to this is that, all prosperous and wealthy countries have an effective private sector that works closely with the central government. And here we remind ourselves of the situation of the United States of America, which is the world's most prosperous nation, where 85% of its Gross Domestic Product (GNP) is generated by the private sector. Thus, if we should prosper and create wealth and render our economy sustainable in the long term, we must get the private sector fully engaged. In this respect, the United States provides a good example that we should emulate.

That said, how do I perceive the government and the private sector working together in our circumstances?

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to see a situation where the budgeting process, for example, where there is a string consultative and collaborative effort with the Chamber of Commerce, in addition to the contribution of civil society. The merits of such consultative and collaborative efforts in preparing the national budget are enormous. Firstly, it provides a medium whereby all stakeholders would participate in the process of identifying national resources as well as in the allocation of these resources among government programmes. Second, and more importantly, it creates mutual understanding and trust. Once that understanding is achieved, the process of legislative debate and subsequent approval is greatly facilitated. That process also reduces the massive resource leakage in the budget implementation process; in other words, corruption! The public would then be aware of the mechanisms of the resource allocation process. And thirdly, the consultative and collaborative process leads to consistency, transparency and confidence in the management of the economy. Stakeholders would be fully aware of not only the quantum of resources allocated for programmes but also the service delivery mechanisms.

In order for all of this to work effectively, the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture has a special role in the sense that it is the oldest organized non-governmental organization with specific interest and mandate in the overall management of the national economy. Therefore, the Chamber must be proactive in coming up with new ideas. It should also try to bring on board other groups such as the Sierra Leone Indigenous Business Association (SLIBA) and the Petty Traders Association, through the same process of discussions and collaboration ultimately to provide advice to Government. And here, I must add that any government that does not heed such valuable advice from such organized interest groups would be living in a fool's paradise.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

In addition to our efforts at national reconstruction and development, we are also confronted with the task of integrating our economy into the international economy. This is what is referred to as globalization; perhaps new in concept but certainly not new in operational terms.

Be that as it may, the implications of globalization are far-reaching in today's world characterized by mass consumerism. It is clear that the process of integrating economies into the global economy is a complex and delicate one. While it is now evident that globalization offers some of the best chances for the rapid transformation of developing economies; it is also true that, if poorly managed, globalization can be a serious disadvantage to an economy such as ours.

For example, one of the most immediate concerns about globalization is our inability to effectively capitalize on the opportunities it offers, including technology transfer and foreign direct investment. This is due mainly to the structural and other weaknesses of our economy. We are even more concerned about the vulnerability of our society to some of the negative forces of globalization, which could limit our ability to nurture and develop potentially competitive industries.

The challenge to you now as representatives of the business community is to develop and initiate strategies that can maximize on the positive aspects, while at the same time offset the negative aspects of globalization.

In spite of the limitations of globalization, the Chamber can avail itself of other opportunities, such as the one offered by the American Government through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOG). This legislation provides enormous trade concessions and privileges for exports from developing countries to the United States. This is one facility that the Chamber can exploit with the assistance of the government to realize its full benefits. You will also be interested to know that the producers of Heineken beer in Holland have recently expressed an interest to me to assist farmers in Sierra Leone to grow barley to be used as raw material for their products. Similarly, our efforts at increasing the production of palm oil, particularly for the export market, provide another area for employment and wealth creation. The interest of potential buyers of our palm oil is in using the product mainly for the production of cosmetics. Palm oil, you may wish to know, has over the years transformed previously poor countries to industrializing nations.

I want to assure you, very unreservedly, that we will encourage private sector investment in all areas of development, such as the development of human resources, the infrastructure, the manufacturing and production industries, agriculture and tourism – all areas which indigenous business people should explore for investment opportunities. Our programme of privatization offers you another great opportunity.

Mr. Chairman: Employment and job creation are pre-requisites for growth and the creation of wealth. The Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, is an appropriate channel for achieving these objectives. It has a vital role to play in developing these areas and in attracting inward private investment; and it must identify and link potential partners within the country for partnership with foreign investors. For this purpose our diplomatic missions abroad can lay a useful and supporting role. There is, however, need for caution here. We should not seek foreign investment for its own sake alone. Rather, we must seek partnerships with those investors who are not only interested in short-term profit, but with those whose investment will add real and lasting value of our development. This will be one of the positive aspects of globalization because it has a great potential for capacity building and job opportunities in many areas.

Let me assure that Government remains firmly committed to continuous dialogue and consultation with the provide sector, and with civil society to collectively develop strategies and policies for growth. The Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, on his part, should seek to mobilize all the actors in the private sector – the Sierra Leone Indigenous Business Association, the Petty Traders Association, etc., to collaborate and work as one body to commence this process of dialogue with Government.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

I cannot end my comments without renewing my Government's strong commitment to the creation of a sustainable framework for the development and promotion of private investment in the country. As organized and careful investors, both members and prospective members of the Chamber need stability and a conducive environment for private investment. You are no doubt aware of the active efforts of my Government in finalizing the Investment Code, and in putting together the framework for a conducive investment promotion environment.

Among key elements of this strategy is the establishment of an Investment Advisory Council, which will create a public/private partnership for the formulation, promotion and development of investment policies and initiatives. That partnership will save government from the problem of "selling" its policies to the private sector since they would have been involved in their formulation, ab initio.

I would therefore urge the members of the Chamber, and all other potential investors and stakeholders to respond to our invitation to participate in this process when called upon to do so.

Mr. Chairman, on a final note, there is a matter which has been of some concern to me, a concern which I expressed in public and in private on several occasions. I take the opportunity of this august gathering to raise the same matter with you.

The ten-year war is now over. With this, stability is fast returning to our country. We are quite satisfied with the enhanced security situation. However, in spite of the prevailing peaceful environment in which we now live, we still remember our individual and bitter personal experiences during the war. As we recall those experiences we should also not forget the causes that have been commonly attributed to the war in the first place. I have had some time to reflect on some of those causes, notably among them are corruption and bad governance.

Corruption in particular has been one issue which I have never missed an opportunity to decry in public. This is so because I am convinced that the prevalence of corruption in our society poses a serious threat to our national security. I emphasized this point in my inaugural address in July this year. The evils of corruption cannot be overstated because it is a security issue. It has the potential to cause untold havoc on this nation, and further destroy the peace which we have all fought for, for so long, and which we now enjoy.

It is common knowledge that I cannot run this country single-handedly. I need people who are capable enough to be able to assist me to manage the affairs of State. I need people who are public spirited enough to be willing to serve in public offices without having their own personal interest as their paramount consideration. I need people who are trustworthy and dependable, and beyond reproach in their conduct of public affairs. I need people to whom I can delegate the performance of any public affairs and so without fear or hesitation.

As the Chief Executive of this country, my real worry is that the number of Sierra Leoneans who can meet that description is dwindling day by day. This is so because the attributes that we have acquired over the last decades have eroded our sense of responsibility and integrity, qualities that are essential for the due performance of public service. And yet still I am obliged to delegate the duties of State first and foremost to Sierra Leoneans.

I therefore ask this august body to help in solving this national problem. Please permit me to make some suggestions which may appear very obvious. It is my view that in the case of corruption, all Sierra Leoneans, whether in the public of private sector should take up arms to fight this common enemy. We should vow to expose and report any, I mean any instance of corruption, and where it involves high-ranking officials of State, I too should be informed immediately.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We should strive to re-inculcate the practice of acting with a sense of nationalism and integrity in the performance of our public duties. We should be transparent and accountable in such a way that there will be no room for suspicion of impropriety in the performance of our public duties. I have tried to practice this at the highest policy making level, that is at the level of the Cabinet. Since I became President, I have always insisted that all Cabinet Papers should first be submitted to the National Policy Advisory Committee (NPAC) for their dispassionate and objective views on the policies which Cabinet may be considering. Because of the objectivity of the views expressed, and the stature and caliber of the members of the NPAC, I have invariably accepted their sound advice and guidance. This accounts for the richness attributed normally to the policies of Government.

To you, the business community, I say, in the case of corruption, there is always a giver and a receiver. Never should you allow yourself to be the giver. Then in this case there will not be a receiver. Thus, you would have assisted in preventing corruption in your own particular way. If any official pushes you into a situation where you are forced to be corrupt, blow the whistle and that official will be exposed. By so doing you would have helped to seal this dangerous leakage or resource that now exists in our system. It is only in this way that we will be able to use our resources for the benefit of our people and attract credible investment partners and reliable donors support.

You can rest assured that my Government is committed to supporting the private sector, both formal and informal, to create employment opportunities and national wealth for the overall well-being of our nation, particularly the vulnerable and underprivileged. I hope, very sincerely, that you too share in that commitment.

I thank you, and once more wish you all a very merry Christmas and a most successful year ahead.