Statement Delivered by Minister at the Diplomatic and Consular Corps Reception held on November 28th 2019

Statement Delivered by Minister at the Diplomatic and Consular Corps Reception held on November 28th 2019

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

Diplomatic and Consular Corps Reception

Sierra Lighthouse

November 28th 2019

Minister’s Statement

Honourable Ministers of Government;

Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs;

Honourable Members of our noble Parliament;

Members of the diplomatic and consular corps;

The Deputy Director General and colleagues of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation;

Good evening!

Let me first of all join my strict but hard working Acting Director General to welcome you all to this reception which is the least my staff and I could do to show how much we appreciate the cordial working relationship that has existed between the Ministry and the diplomatic community in Sierra Leone.

Let me also use this opportunity to convey to you, warmest greetings from His Excellency the President, Dr. Julius Maada Bio, our Chief Diplomat.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen  

A good number of you here tonight are career diplomats and I am 100% positive that you are all very good at what you do. However, one of the many diplomats I admired was Colin Powell. Powell once defined diplomacy and I quote:  

‘’Diplomacy is listening to what the other guy needs. Preserving your own position, but listening to the other guy. You have to develop relationships with other people so when the tough times come, you can work together’’ end of quote.

My interaction with the diplomatic community both in Sierra Leone and abroad over the past six months have made me realize that Powell couldn’t have been more accurate in his characterization of the job that we do.

Everywhere we go as diplomats we listen to our partners, we try to establish and sustain relationships for dealing with bilateral as well as multilateral issues that confront us on a daily basis. But in doing all these things, we try not to lose the core value of who we are and what we stand for. Does this make us a unique specie in the socio-political ecosystem? I would proudly say yes!

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Tonight again, even though I plan to show you, for the first time, my dancing skills, I would first of all like to share with you some of the progress we have made as a Ministry and by extension as a Government in the past few months. I will also go a step further to give you an idea of what we intend to accomplish in the coming months.

Again, even though you already have positions and budgets lines that would not change because of this speech tonight, I am fully confident that you are going to listen closely to what I have to say and later in your respective management meetings you may consider working with us on some of these issues to achieve our shared goals and objectives. That’s diplomacy according to Colin Powell, isn’t it?

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

As I shared with you earlier this month during our diplomatic and consular corps meeting, Sierra Leone has been very active both at the bilateral and multilateral diplomatic fronts in the past few months. Following our participation in the OIC meetings in Jedda, and the UK investment forum, we have participated in several other multilateral engagements including the FOCAC follow up meeting in China, the TICAD conference in Japan, the UN High Level Political Forum in New York, the 74th Session of the General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, the Russia Africa Summit in Russia, and recently the Paris Peace Forum in France among others.

On the side-lines of these multilateral engagements, we usually seize every opportunity to establish new bilateral relationships and deepen existing ones. The bilateral engagements in particular are beginning to yield fruits. We have signed several bilateral agreements with a host of countries in the areas of education, defence, trade and investment, agriculture, transportation and passports, to name but a few, and implementation is underway.

So from our MRU member states-Liberia, Guinea, Cote Divoire, to our brothers and sisters in Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Morocco, Turkey, Kuwait, etc., be rest assured that Sierra Leone is fully committed to the implementation of these Joint Cooperation Agreements and we will continue to work together address issues of common global interest.

We look forward to the opening of our Embassies in a couple of countries within the coming months and some of our old friends have agreed to open their Embassies here in Freetown. On the diplomatic front therefore, even though we recognize that challenges remain, I strongly believe that we are on the right track.

Speaking of challenges, the greatest we have at this moment is with capacity. Currently the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is under-staffed by over 70%. Yes, the situation is that bad. I think I will have to invite my brother the Minister of Finance, Mr Saffa to a Financial Yoga Class so that together, we could learn how to master the art of balancing a lean wage bill, with the desperate need to provide adequate staff, to produce astounding results in service delivery.

Pretty sounds like a topic for a PhD thesis right? I think Proff. Sunil Saigal and Samuel Doe might be interested in providing supervisory support if anyone is interested in conducting a research around this topic. With all that UN capacity support experience and expertise, I believe they can do a great job in that field. 

But on a more serious note, weak absorptive capacity is probably the greatest threat to our drive as a government to transform this country into a middle income economy and we therefore crave support from you our friends to overcome this challenge.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

We do diplomacy not as an end in itself, rather we use it as a vehicle for socio-economic and political advancement of our respective nations. Since 2014 Sierra Leone’s economy has been in a free fall.

Since we took over governance in April 2018, we have instituted fiscal policies to control expenditure, reduce waste and clog leakages in the country’s monetary system. You all may agree with me that significant progress has been made as a result of these interventions.

For instance we have successfully rolled out our flagship program, the Free Quality Education Program with limited outside assistance; we have been able to continuously pay salaries of workers without recourse to bank overdrafts, and we continue to offset debts that the previous regime accumulated.

As a result of our prudent approach to public financial management and broad fiscal discipline, we have been able to once again restore faith and confidence in our partners, especially the IMF that our Government is a trusted partner in development.

However, we recognize that challenges remain. And as our President has stated in many of his public addresses, these are turbulent times. But with his determined leadership and commitment of ALL Sierra Leoneans, we will weather this storm and come out on the other side unscathed.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I must state here that it gives me great joy and comfort that Sierra Leone’s remarkable strides in the areas of improved human rights especially for women and girls, the progress registered in democracy and inclusive governance, our indisputable benchmarks in justice sector reform and our robust fight against corruption, etc., have been finally recognized by the MCC. And my delight is not because of the monetary benefit that comes with this recognition, (yes we need the money as well.

I need to be careful not to annoy the Minister of Finance). But my joy stems mainly from the fact that this recognition has given all of us that extra impetus that we are doing some things right and we need to do more of the right things.

But let me assure you Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen that as a Government and a people, we won’t get intoxicated by this, because we recognize that a lot more needs to be done. This is why we will continue to implement and expand on our national cohesion, inclusive politics and sustainable development initiatives as outlined in our Medium Term National Development Plan.

Under the leadership of HE the President, we will also continue to enhance the enabling fiscal, infrastructural and policy environment for investment to thrive; clamp down on all forms of human rights violations especially against vulnerable members of our society; uphold the tenets of democracy and respect the rule of law; clamp down on traffickers of human beings by fully implementing the requisite legislations. Our fight against corruption, as the President has reiterated on several occasions, is going to be relentless. More importantly, we remain committed to sustainable environmental practices.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me close by sharing with you a few important things about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Each time we meet in receptions like this we crack jokes and laugh about all sorts of things and what you normally see is a composed Minister on the outside, without having any idea of the fire that is burning on the inside of me. Most times I just try to be a diplomat and that is why you are my friends, because I could only imagine what lies beneath all those beautiful smiles that greeted me this evening.

But friends I will be unusually blunt tonight. Diplomacy aside ladies and gentlemen, work has been very difficult. To be short-handed by over 70 percent in terms of staffing is a serious challenge for any entity, but the challenge is tenfold when we talk about a foreign ministry of an entire nation dealing with other countries who do not care so much of your manpower constraints because they have more important things they are grappling with themselves.

Desperate situations sometimes require desperate measures. We are currently working on a coping mechanism by restructuring the entire Ministry. We are basically collapsing some of the departments and strategically repositioning others to enhance efficient and coordinated functioning of the Ministry. This approach however is going to increase workload on individual staffs by 200% which can only be sustained in the short term until we get more competent staff in post.

The absence of a codified Foreign Policy for Sierra Leone has been another serious challenge to our work. This is why I am delighted to report here for the first time that we now have an advanced draft of our National Foreign Policy which will be validated in the coming weeks and subsequently launched. It is my fervent belief and hope that this policy will address most of the sticky points in the functioning of the Ministry both internally and with its numerous partners.

As part of our institutional strengthening drive, we are in advance discussions with some of you to build a functional communication infrastructure in the Ministry. Let’s face it, communication is the palm oil with which the yam of diplomacy is eaten. In ancient periods nations painstakingly endured cumbersome means to keep in constant touch with each other.

Today technology has made it a lot easier and our Ministry would like to take full advantage of the development in ICT to enhance the work we do. I believe that once we get this communication infrastructure up and running, the much loathed communication gap that often exist between the Ministry and the diplomatic and consular community, the Ministry and its overseas embassies; as well communication between the Ministry and other government institutions, will virtually become a thing of the past.

Speaking of communication between the Ministry and the diplomatic and consular community, let me use this opportunity to announce to you all that we have reached the decision to be meeting with you once every quarter. In the last meeting I think it was Ambassador Tom Vens who suggested that we need to run these meetings by specific themes that are relevant to our bilateral as well as multilateral cooperation. We have taken this suggestion as advised and we shall communicate the theme for our next meeting in due course. We are also open to suggestion of themes from you.

I have also asked my Personal Assistant and my Secretary to schedule all meetings with members of the diplomatic and consular corps on Thursday of every week. This does not however mean that I will be meeting with each one of you every Thursday of the week it just means that whenever you want to book an appointment to see me, Thursday is your best bet. However, for issues that require urgent attention, I am always at hand.

Once more I thank you all for coming!

Shukran, Gracias, shie shie, Tissikuler, Merci beaucoup Thank you.