Building on Progress: In Late November, the Government of Sierra Leone Met with Its Development Partners for Two Days of Talks Discussing Its Poverty Reduction Strategy. the Outcome Was the Promise of Unprecedented New Aid Mechanisms and Commitments. Stephen Williams Reports

Article excerpt

Thirty of Sierra Leone's principal development partners met in London with a high-ranking ministerial delegation led by President Ahmad Kabbah to discuss the country's poverty reduction strategy and agree on developing and implementing better donor co-operation. The talks, held on 29-30 November, were co-chaired by the government of Sierra Leone, the UK's Department for International Development (DfID), the UN and the World Bank.

[GRAPHIC OMITTED]

This was the fourth in a series of consultative group meetings to review the Sierra Leonean government's progress at re-establishing security since the ending of the country's civil war.

The war had taken a heavy toll of the economy, which slumped by an average of minus 4.5% each year between 1990 and 2000. Per capita GDP nearly halved to $142 in 2000 and over 80% of the population was living beneath the poverty line of $1 a day. Since 1996 the country has been ranked as among the least developed in the UNDP Human Development Index.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Following the conclusion of a successful disarmament and demobilisation programme in February 2002, a National Recovery Strategy (NRS) was implemented in October 2002. The NRS, along with an interim poverty reduction strategy, was discussed at length at the third consultative group meeting held in Paris in November 2002.

Three years later, at the fourth consultative group meeting in London last November, it was generally agreed that the NRS had achieved its objectives. The results are a sustained recovery of the economy--real GDP rising by 6.3% in 2002, 6.5% in 2003 and 7.4% in 2004. Mirroring the progress of the economy, political devolution has also advanced. The first local government elections in 32 years were successfully held in May 2004 and 19 local councils were established.

Other improvements, highlighted by the UK's International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, include the doubling of enrolment rates in primary schools since the abolition of fees in 2002, the steady decline in child mortality rates, and child immunisation climbing from just 28% in 1997 to 50% in 2004.

The London meeting's participants recognised that Sierra Leone is at a critical juncture in its history and that additional resources are vital to ensure gains from peace are consolidated and to reduce the risk of a return to civil strife. As an expression of confidence in Sierra Leone's plans for poverty reduction, the development partners committed $800m in aid for disbursement between 2005 and 2007. These plans are part of a new three-year poverty reduction strategy programme (PRSP) prepared by the ministerial committee chaired by Vice-President Solomon Berewa. When asked if $800m was sufficient for Sierra Leone's needs, Berewa said that he was more than satisfied and that prior to the London meeting his PRSP ministerial committee had only expected around half this sum being pledged.

New funding mechanisms

Agreement was also reached at the London consultative group meeting that Sierra Leone would benefit from two radically new funding mechanisms. The first was a multi-donor budget support (MDBS) programme, initiated by the European Commission, DfID and the World Bank. The MDBS will focus on strengthening public financial management.

The second was a proposal for a Trust Fund (PRS Trust Fund) to support critical aspects of the poverty reduction strategy that are not being financed through existing bilateral programmes and technical assistance.

The UK has pledged $5m to kick-start the PRS Trust Fund initiative. Secretary of State Benn stated that as the economy improved, more work was needed to tackle corruption. Responding to these comments, Kabbah said: "I am fully aware that the biggest concern for many of our development partners is our level of commitment to fighting corruption."

Vice-President Berewa implored anyone who had evidence of corrupt practices in Sierra Leone to report to this body. …