Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Samura Kamara, Members of Cabinet, Ministers, Special Advisers, Parliamentarians, Fellow Colleagues of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
A very warm welcome from all the British Government Team in Sierra Leone to our national day, a day of celebration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s actual birthday. Thank you for coming.
I arrived here nine months ago with my wife Karen and we have been struck repeatedly by the warmth of our reception and the depth of regard that exists for the UK throughout the country. We already consider this fine nation to be our home.
We have also arrived at a key point in Sierra Leone’s history as this country holds its first election independently of the UN since the end of the Civil War. We congratulate HE President Koroma on setting a date and look forward to working with the government, the NEC, the security forces and civil society to ensure that the elections are free, fair, transparent and above all peaceful. Whoever is elected as the next President we look forward to working with them to build a sustainable future for this country.
The UK has been Sierra Leone’s partner and friend for a very long time. It has been a long and fruitful marriage. We played a central role in bringing the Civil War to an end, and helping build the peace. The UK contributed £427 million to the fight against Ebola, deploying around two thousand military and civilian personnel to support the government’s response.
We have continued that support at a heightened level during the recovery. Sierra Leone is currently the highest per capita recipient of UK development assistance a in the world. Over a two year period the UK Government is contributing £240 million primarily to support the government’s priorities – in health, education, social protection, energy, water and the private sector. High levels of support are projected for the rest of my time here. The UK is not going anywhere.
The recovery process still has a couple of months to run. At the start of the process President Koroma said, this should not be a return to business as usual, but a chance to rebuild Sierra Leone as a better, more resilient and fairer society. We agreed. HE recognised that a different approach was needed to accelerate development here – one that enabled the government to better plan and prioritise, that involved districts, chiefs and communities, and that perhaps most importantly of all, focused most on really driving implementation. In the end, it is the impact on the ground, the difference that is made to people’s lives that really counts.
Across the country, there are teachers in new classrooms with new lesson plans to help them teach more effectively, and girls back in school for whom pregnancy would previously have meant an end to their education. The health system is improving after such a major set-back – there are now thousands of community health workers, immunisation rates are back up with a big malaria campaign to come, and improved health facilities, with new water and sanitation and in some cases power for the first time – I went to turn on the solar-powered lights of one in Kenema district last week. As importantly, the government is gripping some long-standing thorny issues that threaten to stand in the way of progress, such as the teachers’ payroll, petty bribery and the drug supply chain. We will continue to partner the government to push on and make sure as many of the Presidential Delivery Priorities are met as possible.
The lessons from of the recovery process can be applied as we transition to the next stage of development. What is key is leadership from the very top; better delivery; personal responsibility and accountability at all levels; and strong ownership at the district and community level.
There are a couple of other areas of our partnership which I would particularly like to highlight. The UK and Sierra Leone have made important commitments to advance the rights of women and girls, to uphold the rule of law and secure justice for all, and to safeguard free speech and wider freedoms and rights, including those of civil society groups. In common with many others, we each face challenges in delivering on the full intent of these undertakings. Nevertheless, we both recognise them as vital, essential if we are to realise our shared goals, and the UK will continue to support Sierra Leone to move more quickly to fulfilling these commitments.
Development, and the respect for human rights, requires accountable security. We will continue, through ISAT and the UK military and police, to work with the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police to support Sierra Leone’s important contribution to peace and security in Africa, and we are helping Sierra Leone prepare to return to Peace Support Operations soon. We will continue to support national efforts to improve security sector accountability, and I appreciate the extent to which the IGP has responded to the police receiving the most reports under the Pay No Bribe initiative – being top of that league is not where anyone wants to be.
I am also personally committed to getting more British Companies to come and invest in Sierra Leone. This country will only really prosper when it has a vibrant and successful formal private sector. Some of that investment will come from within and from the Diaspora. But much will need to come from the international community. There are already a number of British companies doing this Westminster/SC/Arup/Nectar are some of the examples. British Financiers are standing behind the two biggest Energy developments in the country. I look forward to working with the government to create the level playing field which will attract more that will help to create the jobs that Sierra Leone needs.
A few thanks:
Let me thank those British companies who are investing in Sierra Leone’s future and are our generous sponsors for tonight’s event: Standard Chartered Bank, Nectar, G4S and the British Chamber of Commerce.
This has been a busy month culminating in the visit two weeks ago of HRH the Princess Royal. I would like to give thanks to all the members of the One HMG Team in Sierra Leone for their welcome, support, friendship and sage advice. Their teamwork and collaboration has been personified in the preparation and hosting of tonight’s event: thank you all!
The UK and Sierra Leone will always remain faithful friends. As a symbol of that friendship, and with thanks again for honouring us with your presence, I ask you to raise your glasses in a toast to the President and People of Sierra Leone.