TOM VENS, EU AMBASSADOR TO SIERRA LEONE
ON THE OCCASION OF THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF THE EU FUNDED PROGRAMME
“Support to Civil Society and Local Authorities for local development in
Venue: University of Makeni, Bombali District (Sierra Leone)
Date: Friday the 10th of July 2020
Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone,
Hon. Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Hon. Members of Parliament,
Her worship the Mayor of Makeni City,
Esteemed Chairmen Chief Administrators, and staff of the beneficiary District Councils,
revered Traditional Leaders,
Permanent Secretaries, Directors and other Gov. Officials present,
Local Councils Association of Sierra Leone,
Esteemed civil society and private sector representatives ,
Members of the Project Management Unit,
Members of the media
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
I am most honoured to join Your Excellency Mr President and other dignitaries today in Makeni for the signing ceremony of grant contracts between the EU and the District Councils of Bombali, Kambia, Kenema and Pujehun.
This ceremony also marks the official launch of the Programme “Support to Civil Society and Local Authorities for local development in Sierra Leone”.
This programme is funded by the European Union with the aim to support effective decentralization and efficient service delivery to the citizens of this Country, especially in remote areas.
Inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities create threats to social stability, cohesion and economic growth. To address these development challenges and contribute meaningfully to the effort of partner Countries, the European Commission committed in 2013 to promote globally what we call “a territorial approach to local development”. In its Communication “Empowering Local Authorities for enhanced governance and more effective development outcomes” the EU recognised Local Authorities’ central role in development and committed to strengthening their human, technical and financial capacity worldwide.This because, as EU, we believe in the principle of subsidiarity and in results and people-centered development.
We believe that, in order to bring results to the people, one has to govern close to the people.
We believe that, if we want to bring real prosperity and well-being to the ordinary citizens, then one has to empower the governance structures that are closest to them.
In simple terms: “Handle at local level what is best done at local level”.
This is why, within and outside its borders, the European Union promotes subsidiarity and decentralisation, supports the empowerment of Local Authorities and Civil Society, fosters partnership of local governmental and non-governmental actors to help realize the potential of local development.
We trust this will contribute to economic growth and social cohesion for the benefit of Salone as a whole.
Such an approach recognizes also the integrated and multidimensional character of local development and recognizes the responsibility of Local Authorities to administer devolved functions, deliver services that promote economic and social development of their communities. This requires their ability to improve efficiency of national investments and development efforts, the autonomy of leveraging additional resources from communities and private sector to be injected into the development of the locality, and - last but not least - transparency and accountability towards the national democratic institutions and the public at large.
If District Councils play key roles in providing coordination of multiple sectorial interventions, on the other hand, civil society and local community participation have a crucial role in decentralization processes. Firstly, as watchdogs ensuring accountability and social control on public service delivery. Secondly, to help design public policies that are more aligned to citizen’ interests. It is our conviction that if local authorities and civil society work together this will generate a multiplier effect on local development with very positive impact on democracy and social cohesion.
This explains the two-folded approach of the EU Programme in Support to Civil Society and Local Authorities.
The four grants contracts to the District Councils of Bombali, Kambia, Kenema and Pujehun we are signing today supplement the programme component in support to local Civil Society initiatives which started in the end of 2019.
Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me recognise the presence with us today of the representatives of the Civil Society and Community Based Organisations beneficiary of this programme. These are coalitions of local Non-Governmental Organisations led by:
AAD: Action for Advocacy and Development Sierra Leone
KADDRO: Kambia District Development and Rehabilitation Organisation
ActionAid: Action Aid International Sierra Leone Limited
DIP: Development Initiative Programme
WHH: Deutsche Welthungerhilfe
PACE: Partnership Action for Community Empowerment
MAPCO: Movement for Assistance and Promotion of Rural Communities
These organisations are to be recognised and lauded as they succeeded a highly competitive grant-making procedure and were awarded contracts to an overall amount of € 8 million euro (88 billion SLL).
To these organisations I wish to express our heartfelt congratulations along with our high expectations.
Your projects were selected amongst many because deemed to bring innovative solutions and enhanced contribution towards inclusive social and economic development for the people of Bombali, Kambia, Kenema and Pujehun. In particular, they stood out for their gender and environmental sensitivity and high impact prospects on local development.
I encourage these civil society initiatives to act local and think big. To collaborate closely with the District Councils of Bombali, Kambia, Kenema and Pujehun to support sustainable, gender and environmentally sensitive service delivery and to help shaping coordinated citizen-driven local development processes.
No one is under the illusion that the complex challenges to reach the SDGs can be addressed exclusively by governing from the top. There is a critical role for all stakeholders – from investors to community and grassroots organisations – and at all levels of governance – from the executive to the local councils. And to succeed there needs to be cooperation and understanding between those different actors – informed by best practice and sound regulations.
I laude your strategic and long-term vision, in placing Decentralisation at the core of your Government’s “New Direction”.
The Medium Term National Development Plan 2019-2023 recognizes that “the cornerstone for ensuring inclusivity in the governance system at all levels is empowering local governments and implementing a decentralized approach to efficient service delivery”.
This is important.
Decentralisation matters, in Sierra Leone as everywhere else.
Your Government has launched in October a comprehensive review of the National decentralisation policy and legal framework. We are proud to have been able to partner with your services, the Ministry in charge of Local Governance and Rural Development, the Parliamentary committee in charge of Local governance to ensure a sound and widely consultative process.
It is our hope this review process will enable to address the most critical constraints and support effective and sustainable devolution of State functions to Local Authorities.
Decentralisation is complex and cannot be achieved overnight. Experiences from other countries indicate an inevitably long path of sequenced and much debated reforms.
Many constraints hinder Local Authorities’ capacity to effectively deliver on their mandate. These include a level of decentralisation that can be further completed and fine-tuned; ongoing capacity challenges in the administrations; and, insufficient, discontinued resources to deliver adequate services, and lack of transparency and accountability.
While this programme will seek to support technical capacity, transparency and accountability in line with the national ambitions and best international practices, I appeal to you to capitalise on the recent progressive developments to ensure a sound legal and regulatory framework and sufficient human and financial resources are in place to enable Local Authorities to effectively discharge their functions.
I am very pleased to note that annual budgetary allocation has increased over the years and welcome the fact that the Ministry of Finance has recently initiated the disbursement of statutory financial transfers for this year to Local Councils.
As European Union, as we commit to support Sierra Leone also through Budgetary Aid, we firmly advocate for increased public financial management at all levels and strengthened budgetary deconcentration.
As we support Local Councils’ planning and reporting capacity, development of sound medium term budgetary and expenditure frameworks, integrated with central government expenditure frameworks, we hope the budgetary allocation to Local Authorities will progressively increase to enable effective delivering of devolved basic social services.
Cognisant that fiscal space cannot be funded solely by external aid and budgetary allocations by the central government, the programme will seek to contribute to enhanced resources mobilisation at local level. Decentralised fiscal policy is key to sustainable local development.
Hon. Minister Lamina,
Let me express my appreciation for your leadership and your Ministry’s important contribution towards devolution, being responsible for policy formulation, coordination and monitoring of programmes implemented by LCs.
The ongoing policy and legal review process driven by your Ministry, under the competent technical leadership of the Decentralisation Secretariat, has proven able to embrace the widest constituency of stakeholders, and wisely allowed the time for the definition of a revised policy that can stand the test of time.
May the reviewed policy bring the needed clarity and direction, notably in respect to scope of devolution, roles and responsibilities in respect of fiscal policy and resources mobilisation, and local elections.
Esteemed Chairmen of Bombali, Kambia, Kenema and Pujehun,
The Programme we are launching today, comes as a unique opportunity for the councils you represent, to prove your efficiency as local government and development actors, to the benefit of the residents of your districts.
The grants we are signing today, represent an overall commitment of € 10 million (110 billion SLL) by the European Union. You might want to consider it as a donation by the citizens of Europe to the citizens of your districts.
My hope is that this donation will go a long way in supporting the delivery of public services entrusted to your Council, the implementation of critical priorities identified under the District Development Plan as well as the District Council’s efforts to strengthen resources mobilisation, good governance, and accountability.
This donation shall support your capacity building and resource generation and collection, to better serve the citizens of the communities you serve and contribute to the effort of the national Government in the fight against poverty and toward the full enjoyment of basic human rights.
Citizens of your Districts shall be reached with improved and sustainable services in the sectors of agriculture, infrastructural development, water and sanitation, energy and social services.
I take note that the actions you have proposed encompass a multi-sectoral approach in alignment with the Mid Term National Development Plan (MTNDP) and the Quick Action Economic Response Plan (QAERP).
Of equal importance, our collaboration will also complement the Government’s effort in containing the coronavirus and provide a significant contribution to the decentralized response to COVID-19 in alignment and synergy with National COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan (NPRP).
It is our expectation the Councils will engage in COVID-19 preparedness and response, notably to support community sensitisation, dignified quarantine, isolation and treatment centres, monitoring border posts and improving hygiene in markets and WASH facilities across the Districts.
Coordination with the District Coronavirus Emergency Response Centres (DICOVERCs), and relevant line Ministries and Development Agencies will be critical to ensure the containment of the COVID19 outbreak as well as a prompt economic recovery for the District and the Nation as a whole.
I also wish to underscore the importance of establishing collaborative engagement with the private sector and civil society active in the District – a specific objective actively pursued by the EU programme with the two-fold aim to maximise economic and social development and enhance economic and social accountability. The EU Project Management Unit will support you in this respect, facilitating the promotion of innovative partnerships as well as the establishment of effective oversight and coordination mechanisms encompassing these critical actors in local development.
I trust your District Council will engage with the NGOs who are Beneficiary of the EU grants, to jointly foster a culture of people-centered and gender-sensitive development, transparency and accountability, notably in respect on local development planning and budgetary oversight.
Last but not least, it is everybody’s duty to see to it that the awarded grant goes to the benefit of the people who have the right to demand accountability.
Your presence today, is a clear manifestation of the government’s desire to strengthen decentralisation and empower local councils for enhanced democracy, good governance and local development.
Strengthening peace and democracy has never been an easy task, and today’s Covid-19 crisis context poses further challenges. The prospect of a global economic recession and social instability have driven the EU to widen and intensify its efforts.
We have frontloaded € 10 million in budgetary aid; promptly engaged all uncommitted funds and repurposed a high number of programmes to respond rapidly and flexibly to the urgent emerging needs triggered by the global crisis. I am happy to announce that yesterday we also signed a partnership agreement with a coalition of NGOs led by Trocaire to support COVID-19 decentralised response to COVID19 in Kerene and Falaba Districts . And we stand by our promise to commit an additional € 2 million to the programme we are launching today to support effective local participatory development in the recently established districts of Kerene and Falaba.
Mr President, I reaffirm the EU’s strong commitment to strengthening good governance in Sierra Leone. We all agree that this requires an efficient public sector, accountable and empowered local authorities and a vibrant civil society, who should actively promote national cohesion and help build credible and accountable institutions.
In concluding, I would like to leave the following 5 requests with you:
1. That the decentralization policy and the Local Government Act are completed as soon as possible.
2. That the Government commits to regular and timely fiscal transfers to the Councils in line with the decentralization policy.
3. That the tendency to re-centralize by some MDAs through clawing back the devolved functions will be addressed if the decentralization agenda is to achieve its objectives.
4. That the Access To Information Bill is enacted. I make this plea because, Mr President as we are all too aware corruption remains a reality that has the potential to severely undermine our development efforts. Public access to information and open sourcing of public information will play a role in this effort.
5. That the Constitutional Review Process be rekindled through a White Paper. It will allow you Mr President to realise key reforms that, along with a modern harmonised Public Service Act and Decentralisation Policy and Bill would provide a solid foundation for the development trajectory that your Government rightly aspires.
Finally I wish to reiterate my strong appreciation for your personal commitment and support by joining us here today. I am confident that through this project, local authorities and civil society in the targeted areas will work in good partnership to strengthen local development and social cohesion for the benefit of the people of Sierra Leone.
On behalf of the EU, I personally wish the project every success.
As the nation fights COVID-19, the European Union and Team Europe stand with Salone and all key partners in development, in support of national cohesion, prosperity, peace and democracy for all Sierra Leoneans.