I thank the Chairman and members of the committee. I will begin with the subject raised by the Chairman, namely, corruption. It was one of the causes of the conflict. What the President has done is enacted a new anti-corruption Act last year which gave prosecutorial powers to the commission on anti-corruption. The procedure was that before we came to power all the files had to go to the attorney general's office, which made it very difficult for him to prosecute ministers and top level people. Before the commissioner can prosecute he must get a fiat from the President. We have in place some of the most progressive anti-corruption legislation.
I am a member of the commission. The aim was to develop a national anti-corruption strategy. I am chairman with responsibility for the implementation of the strategy at the top level. Recently when they graded the ministries, my ministry got 40%, which was very embarrassing for me as chairman. Basically, each ministry now has to have a committee. We are making efforts and progress. It is also necessary to develop the system because corruption is not only a matter of prosecution. We do not want to emphasise prosecution alone but also prevention and public education. The strategy must be holistic. That means one has to prevent corruption but one also has to prosecute it and have education awareness. Offices are now being set up across the country.
We are making an effort because we know that if we deal with the problem of corruption then we can move from the potential to the reality of Sierra Leone achieving the vision of the President in terms of addressing poverty. Corruption results in a lot of wastage. I would like to read the committee's report. We will give it to the commissioner who is one of our best human rights lawyers. He is very young and dynamic. He was in the transitional justice initiative programme before he was brought in by the President. Corruption is high on the President's agenda and he is insisting on tackling it. For the first time ministers, public servants even police officers are now being required to disclose their assets. A couple of minutes after he signed the Act, the President disclosed his assets. One has to declare everything, including the number of pairs of shoes or earrings one has. Thus, one's accounts are monitored yearly to determine how much one is spending and the extent of one's spending capability and earning power. We are working toward that and it is very challenging. Recently the DFID Minister gave £2 million to the anti-corruption commission. We have even subjected our overseas embassies to scrutiny. The commission is setting up structures to investigate them. The problem is so deep rooted that it affects the ordinary policeman in the street. Corruption, as members know, operates on a small scale and on a massive scale, in respect of contracts, for example. An effort is being made in this regard.
With regard to diamonds, I am sure members are aware that part of the outcome of addressing the problem with diamonds in Sierra Leone is the Kimberley process, the certification process. Diamonds did not cause the war in Sierra Leone but fuelled it. When the rebels took hold of the mining area, they had additional resources to buy more arms. At the beginning of the war, they were not in control of the diamond areas. However, when they took hold of them, they exchanged the resources for arms. Diamonds fuelled and prolonged the war and this is why the whole world focused on the blood diamond issue, thus leading to the setting up of the Kimberley process.
The challenge is that, as I speak, Sierra Leone only benefits from a diamond tax of 3%. We are considering this issue. When the Government came to power, we suspended all the mining agreements. We are renegotiating them and, in the process, we are developing new mining regulations to ensure the national resources in Sierra Leone will benefit the ordinary citizen. The President suspended all the contracts he inherited. He reviewed them, brought lawyers from overseas, as Liberia did, and considered the contracts. The director general of the mining Ministry is a British technical assistant who was provided by the DFID. The whole mining sector is being reviewed to ensure Sierra Leona benefits from what it produces.
The influence of Charles Taylor is very limited because, once one contains the rebel power, one contains Charles Taylor's influence. Once he was arrested and everybody knew he was behind bars, it completely dissipated his influence in Sierra Leone, which was limited to the top level of leadership. This is even the case in Liberia. I worked in the UN offices in Liberia where Mr. Taylor had a political party, a rebel movement. The Government in Liberia has succeeded in containing it. There is some semblance of loyalty but not in Sierra Leone where the influence of Mr. Taylor has been minimised considerably. He was dealing with the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front, which was wiped out. Many died, including the top commander, Sam Bockarie, and those remaining were tried. Mr. Taylor is no longer an issue for us in Sierra Leone because, as far as we believe, he was arrested and is gone forever. We are not really worried about him.
On the question of the effectiveness of donor aid, there is a considerable challenge. My portfolio covers both international affairs and international co-operation. I realised there was a little co-ordination among donors. We sat down with them and considered their different objectives and are now working on having a co-ordinated approach on general funding. As I stated, the first meeting of the development partnership is being held with the President. We are to have continuous and regular aid co-ordination. We are also taking into account success stories such as that in Mozambique and Rwanda to determine how they managed aid co-ordination effectively and got donors to focus on certain areas and develop their skills. We are studying their comparative advantage so we can reduce duplication and wastage. We have the complete co-operation of the donors.
The UN family itself has a joint vision to reduce the number of working objectives and address how they align with the Government's key objectives and priority areas. Further relationships and collaboration are now developing between the donors, Government and others. It is still a huge challenge because donors ultimately feel what a particular country wants to fund does not have any relation with what the country in question wants. We are dealing with all these issues.
We are also considering cases where the donor is not on the ground. I refer to the Nordic countries with a view to determining whether a general fund or basket fund could be used or whether they could work through other donors. We have tried to expand our support. I have been to Brazil, India and other countries trying to bring them on board also so we can increase the participation of other donors.
Female genital mutilation has more to do with illiteracy than other factors. I agree it presents a considerable challenge but people tend to underestimate how quickly it is being wiped out. Perhaps the statistics are not as accurate as they might be. I come from a village in the heartland of the Northern Province, the seat of traditional Sierra Leone. A woman cannot even be a traditional leader there as it is impossible. A woman is traditionally part of her husband's property when he dies in the part of the country from which I come. However, I broke the barrier through education and other means.
When I wanted to build a compound – the family compound was destroyed during the war – I was given land. The chief signed the paper giving it to me. These may not be matters that are documented but circumstances are changing with education and literacy. I was given a piece of land and stated I needed a document to prove I owned it. I come from a traditional family. The family got together, the chief drew up the paper and everybody signed and I paid the necessary token – I could not buy it because land belongs to the community, the family. As a woman I could not buy it because my grandfather had two daughters and the daughters had daughters. Although I have a son, we obviously lost ownership to the male part of the family, even though I am still a member of the family. We were able to sit together and say we have to move ahead. Quite recently I went to my uncle, who is a prominent chief, and stated I needed investors to come to the region to invest in agriculture. Our chiefdom is the biggest in the part of the country from which we come. The chief said to me he would give to me whatever amount of land I needed. The belief is that the land will not be taken away. Even if an investment covers a period of 50 or 100 years, the land will always remain in that part of the country.
The psyche is changing. It is a matter of dealing with the issue that land is money and that land has value. Sometimes educated people, such as lawyers, are the ones holding the country to ransom. I do not believe the traditional people are doing so. Some of these issues must be dealt with head-on and the Government is doing so. People such as the Egyptians want to invest in land. The land was given to them by the Government because, in Africa, the Government has a power of possession. Once somebody wants to invest and this is made very clear to the community, there is no great challenge. We had a law reform commission and are trying to change the law. The proposal has gone through Cabinet and we are considering land tenure. However, it does not present a restriction.
Both of my parents were illiterate and I am of the first generation to be educated in the family. I now have property and the house is to be roofed this weekend. I have the ownership document that was given to me. I do not refer to the land and series of properties I have in the city but to my house in the village, the part of the country that people believe to be the most traditional.
With regard to female genital mutilation, many people of my generation who are educated do not bother to have the procedure performed on their children because nobody will harass them. One challenge I faced as a human rights activist occurred when I sat in my office and people visited and stated I was seeking political asylum because I would be subjected to female genital mutilation compulsorily if I went back to my country. That is not true, regardless of who says so. One can quote me anywhere. I do not deny that the procedure may be performed on children below the age of 15 or very young children of the first generation but there is no story to the effect that one is arrested and forcibly subjected to the procedure. That is not possible.
Many of us of the first generation to be educated do not have our children subjected to female genital mutilation because we have read about it and realise how harmful it is. Many of us of the first generation could not refuse it as we did not understand it and went through it. However, I have many nieces who have not gone through female genital mutilation. Nobody would now ask them to go through it. With education and an increase in economic independence, it will die out as a practice.
In the Kambia district and other parts of Sierra Leone, communities are voluntarily talking about banning it. Five years ago, one could not have done this. When I contested the last election and went to certain parts of the country, people threw stones at me because they said I was against female genital mutilation. The people were indoctrinated to believe that, as I was a human rights activist, I had been used by Western powers to campaign against female genital mutilation. Now these same communities are voluntarily discussing it with the village chiefs accommodating debate. The first time one of my officials reported this I was shocked that the people were prepared to discuss it.
With more women being sent to school and an increase in women's economic independence, discussing female genital mutilation is no longer an issue in itself. When my mother was initiated into the Bondo society, it was seen as a substitute for education. She was in it for a whole year, in which time she learned many skills, formed friendships and networks. There were up to 100 women in it which was like a camp or a school. Now people question the need for it; it has lost the value it used to have. It is seen more as a punishment or not even necessary.
I accept there are still some families and ethnic groups that are traditional and believe in it. However, many of them just do not bother anymore. The more educated a family becomes, the less interested it is in the procedure. As people move to urban areas, they also become less interested in it. The rate may have been 90% some 20 years ago; today it is not so high. Every weekend when I go back to my village, one does not even hear the musical ritual associated with the society because people are more preoccupied with other matters.
We still must get people to understand how harmful female genital mutilation can be. Sierra Leone is part of the African Union protocol on women's rights. As soon as it is ratified, female genital mutilation will become illegal in Sierra Leone. I have many nieces and nearly 99% are not members of the society. It simply just does not occur to them.
As politicians never want to lose votes, the Sierra Leone Government prefers to work with NGOs and women's groups to see the procedure die out naturally. In certain parts of the country, the women who performed the operation were given an alternative source of income to stop doing it. It was a money-making operation for many because for every operation, the family paid a certain amount of money.
After the civil war, the Sierra Leone Government embarked on judicial reform. The country has two systems, the traditional and the modern. Due to high illiteracy rates, people tend to access the traditional system as it is less expensive, less complex and less cumbersome. Reform of the system has been embarked upon to divert people to a more modern system. Police reform is also taking place. Other governance reforms are being introduced such as the establishment of a human rights commissioner and an anti-corruption commission. These all aim to improve the rule of law and prevent human rights violations. The President recently signed various Acts — one targets domestic violence — which will realise our international commitments relating to combating violence against women.
We accept there are problems with Sierra Leone trade and investment with the European market. Our President believes in private sector development. We are examining how the European markets could open access to Sierra Leone goods and services. For example, Sierra Leone has a large fishing industry but it is not allowed to export its products to the EU. Due to the civil war and resulting damage to infrastructure, even the agriculture sector's potential has been reduced. We have established a Sierra Leone produce marketing board. It is really a resuscitation of the company that used to export various commodities such as cocoa which went bankrupt during the civil war. It will invest in the agriculture sector which will concentrate not only in food production but cash crops.
Agriculture has the potential to turn the country around. Up to 70% of Sierra Leoneans work in the agriculture sector but most of it is subsistence. We intend to mechanise agriculture to transform the lives of ordinary people. By putting more money in their pockets, they will be able to pay for their children's education and access to medicines.
The collapse of the global banking system has not affected many of the banks in west Africa as most of them are not integrated into the international banking system. The crisis has affected, however, the diaspora sending money back home from abroad and donor assistance. For example, Sierra Leone gets between 40% to 50% of its budget support from international donor funds. If that is reduced, our ability to deliver services will be affected. The other problem is with exports. Once people do not have extra spending money, exports may drop.
Illicit drugs are a problem not just for Sierra Leone but for the whole of west Africa. Guinea-Bissau is the bedrock of the problem. Recently, a plane loaded with 700 kg of narcotics landed at Freetown airport. Fortunately, we managed to arrest the people involved. We have introduced one of the most progressive anti-narcotics laws. This was the first time I attended a Cabinet meeting in which there was one agenda — to examine the drug law line by line. Three of the people arrested were actually expelled to the United States because they were wanted there. They received heavy sentences and fines because the message from the President was to the effect that this was not a place where illicit drug dealing could take place and that it would not be allowed. Even the Minister for Transport, whose brother was arrested, was dismissed from his job and is still under suspension. We are looking into what will happen to them. There is a serious problem in Guinea because the leader of the drug cartel in Sierra Leone fled there. We worked very closely with the American ambassador to try to bring him back, but, unfortunately, we discovered that the children of the late President of the previous government in Guinea were involved in the drugs trade, with the result that we were not able to bring him back. The new Government in Guinea attempted to pursue him, but he has escaped. I am sure the committee is aware that the two sons of the former President are in prison and that the new military leader in Guinea is taking a strong stand on the issue of drugs. We are working together and a position was taken at the last ECOWAS summit that a special summit be convened to address the drugs problem within ECOWAS. Therefore, the problem will be examined at sub-regional level because it is not an issue we can address individually since we do not have the capacity to do so. In Sierra Leone there are a great many islands and many of the drug dealers come on boats and there is not the ability to monitor the territorial waters; therefore, we are looking at a regional and sub-regional neighbourhood strategy to consolidate whatever support we can receive. It is not just a question of Sierra Leone; we need to improve the naval capacity of our neighbours.
At this time we do not have an agreement with the Chinese on mining development in Sierra Leone. They have one in Liberia, but we do not have a signed agreement with them on mining or other industries. However, I know they are very interested in iron ore; therefore, discussions are ongoing. I am sure that in the not too distant future something will come out of these talks.
I agree that the infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. It is an enormous problem and the President sees it as a personal challenge to see how it can be addressed. We are looking at different methods, but it is challenging. We have a medical school but lose 90% of the nurses and doctors to the United Kingdom. We do not have the expertise. I had to go to Cuba where I negotiated for about 50 doctors. We also asked South Africa to pay for the local component. We have been looking at successful strategies such as that used in Malawi to see how we might improve the standard delivery system in Sierra Leone. It is an enormous problem which the President discussed with the UK Prime Minister when we visited that country to see what could be done because we are losing our nurses and doctors to Britain since we cannot pay them. Unfortunately, if they are paid the equivalent of $200 at home, they can go to England where they will be paid £1,000; therefore, they run away. These are challenges and at this emergency stage, we are working with the Cubans.
I went to Egypt to look at mobile clinics. Building a clinic in every town will be extremely difficult, but the Egyptians have experience in developing mobile clinics which move from community to community as moving hospitals. The Egyptians have donated two mobile clinics for us to use to see what valuable work may effectively be undertaken in the short term to address the problem. We can work with other donors to secure additional resources until we are able to develop the capacity to address the challenge outright, but it is an enormous problem. In the last discussion I had with the Minister for Health he told me the statistics had improved. I do not have the details, but it is agreed that the problems are being addressed. Again, it has to do with the war.
I agree that women's rights issues are human rights issues. That is my background. I believe the passing of the three gender Bills in parliament which have been signed by the President is an indication that he is also committed to women's rights. A couple of years ago even a woman in my position could not go to the police to have a bail warrant for somebody signed, not that it was illegal to do so, but that was how the police operated. Nobody would rent a house to a woman; it was the human psyche not to do so. However, through the agency of public education and awareness raising, all of this prejudice towards women is being wiped out. I can now go to the police station to have a bail warrant for somebody signed. This is a significant advancement because I do not want to live in a chauvinistic society. However, that is what it was. This is one of the successes resulting from the war because it raised awareness of and put on the agenda women's rights issues. Many people have now come to realise that women have more rights. For example, in government we have women working in the Supreme Court. We have five justices, three of whom are women, including the chief justice. Therefore, prominent positions are being given to women — the head of the human rights commission is a woman. These are all indications that the Government is willing to raise awareness. For the first time we have a Sierra Leonean woman as registrar of the special court. In his own way, therefore, the President is trying to pinpoint the fact that women have the ability to hold such positions. Recently parliament set up a women's caucus to look at various issues. I consulted the President on the selection in his office of UN advisers on women's rights in order that this would be a prominent part of his agenda and he agreed. I have to address the modalities with the United Nations to ensure all Cabinet decisions and policies are mediated through the gender lens. The President accepted my suggestions and the United Nations will put a recruitment process in place to select someone to work in the President's office. Through this initiative we shall be able to deal with the issues involved.
On the issue of why I was not elected, I believe it was because I was a woman and that the time was not right. That is the reality. Most believed it was too soon. At the time people realised it was not possible to have a woman President. However, Liberia has changed this and there was an increase in women candidates in the last parliamentary elections. As regards local government elections, we are doing what Rwanda did at the lowest level, what we call the ward development committee. This is the body which decides the development agenda of the local council. We have a 50% quota share for women who are selected, not elected. Therefore, 50% of the members of the ward development committee are women. Once women are encouraged at that lower level and the level of education is increased, they are empowered economically and can then make political decisions. People have come to see women in prominent positions and, therefore, believe they have the ability to manage. Heretofore, they had been indoctrinated. Where I come from, for example, a woman cannot become a chief. That is the cultural belief of the people in the region. However, that women now hold high positions in authority is changing the mentality. Recently when I visited my uncle who is the chief of my village, surprisingly he said: "I am praying that I will live long to ensure you become President." That is the way people are thinking now. They believe there is nothing women cannot achieve; therefore, opportunities are opening up.
As regards the conflict involving Sierra Leone and Liberia, everything possible is being done. The two countries have developed a very close relationship. The Presidents talk at least once a week; the idea is to ensure we share our experiences. Recently the President of Liberia said he wanted his country to move from being a net exporter of war to an exporter of peace. Data are being shared between the two countries and we are also trying to involve Guinea in the process to ensure we work more on the preventive side. Our concern is for Guinea which has 22,000 people under arms. That is why at the last ECOWAS summit it was recommended that Guinea be a candidate for a peace building commission in order that it might embark on a serious security sector reform programme. The international community must realise Guinea is a very militarised society and that it has to keep it stable to be able to protect Liberia Within Liberia and within Sierra Leone, it will be very difficult to go back into conflict because many efforts have been made. However, if Guinea is destabilised, it will have an effect on our two countries. At the last ECOWAS summit, we asked the community to do whatever it could to stabilise Guinea. We share 625 km of border with that country, or four of the 12 districts in Sierra Leone. These are very remote areas without any road networks. That is a worrying concern for us and that is why we are encouraging the peace building commission to embark on the security sector reform for Guinea, so that the military can be demobilised and the number of people under arms reduced in Guinea. This only refers to the military, and does not take into account the police and the gendarmerie. If there is any problem that becomes a crisis and affects both Liberia and Sierra Leone, it will have come from Guinea.
The President has embarked on a bold step towards the transformation of the economy. It is a huge challenge for us, but we need substantial help to move the country forward, to create more opportunities and jobs, and to build a private sector. We have changed the laws. One can now register a company in Sierra Leone in less than 48 hours. One does not need a lawyer to register. We are changing investments and we are looking to create incentives for companies that wish to invest in Sierra Leone, especially in the agriculture sector, to make sure that it is easier for people to invest there. The Government itself cannot provide the jobs. Many of the jobs will be provided by the private sector. The President comes from the private sector and he has appointed a private sector adviser to work with the Minister of trade and to make sure that private sector development is at the heart of his economic development agenda.