EU Ambassador Hails Government/CSOs Dialogue

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Tom Vens, Ambassador of the European Union to Sierra Leone

By Amin Kef Sesay

Tom Vens, Ambassador of the European Union to Sierra Leone, on the occasion of the inaugural government and civil society dialogue, stated that he welcomes the arrangement and that the EU supports it.

Speaking on the theme: “Government Interventions to address the COVID-19 Pandemic in Sierra Leone” at the Freetown International Conference Center, Aberdeen on Friday 30th October 2020, he stated among other things that he is delighted for the inaugural high-level dialogue between Government and Civil Society.

He went on to say that it enhances consultation of and collaboration with Civil Society Organisations in addressing the crisis engendered by the COVID-19 and on broader governance and developmental issues.

He said it takes leadership to rethink and take affirmative action to reinvigorate the state-society social contract; and even more so during difficult times.

He maintained that fostering economic development and strengthening peace and democratic rule is not only the priority but has been the principal aim of the European Union from its very outset 70 years ago. He added that as a community of like-minded States, the EU promotes the pursuit of peace and democracy both internally and in all its external actions, political and diplomatic relations with the rest of the world.

There is no one democratic model that fits all. The model as such is not the point – the participation in decision-making is; the opportunity for the citizens to take and be part in the governing of society; the opportunity to voice opinions through channels that do not undermine stability and the very foundation and principles of the state; that is what matters. And this is where civil society can play an often underestimated role.

He added that he has no hesitation to state that strengthening the role of national civil society organisations in democratic processes, and promoting social accountability models based on transparency and sustained trust-building dialogue between State and non-State Institutions have always been at the core of the EU engagement with its partner countries.

“The prospect of a global economic recession and social instability has driven the EU to widen and intensify its efforts. In Sierra Leone, as elsewhere in the world, we have front-loaded our budget support, repurposed our cooperation programmes, committed all available funds to support Government’s efforts to contain the pandemic and ensure prompt economic recovery. And along with that, we have reinforced, widened and deepened our partnership with civil society organisations to become an effective force not just in the fight against COVID19 but for deepening democracy, social cohesion and public accountability,” he maintained.

He stated that “We all agree – enhanced public participation, through active involvement of civil society organizations in public policy planning, implementation and oversight can significantly accrue the benefits and potential for development as well as peace and social cohesion.”

He further spoke on the speed and magnitude of the global crisis, with one-third of the global population under lockdown mean that we are entering unchartered territory. These, he added, have led to a new vision for action revolving around the concept of ‘resilient societies’ based on the mutually reinforcing pillars of peace and democracy and enhanced social accountability through the active engagement of civil society.

He spoke of several examples that attest to the positive role of CSOs in helping shape and implement Government response to the pandemic, ensure that this addresses the needs of the most vulnerable segments of society.

He maintained that citizens’ quest and expectations for effective and efficient implementation and tangible outcomes are high, with no space for politically motivated distortions or the pursuit of narrow personal interests by those with a say in the allocation of resources. The call for sound financial management, fiscal transparency and public accountability by development partners is also strong. This is notably the case for those – like the European Union – providing direct budgetary aid to partner countries.

“It is our expectation that the Civil Society Organizations will continue to help tracking and monitoring the implementation of measures, ensuring they target and reach the most vulnerable segment of society, providing Government and Development Partners the much-needed input on possible corrective actions” he furthered.

Sierra Leone, like many countries in the world, has adopted extraordinary measures to respond to the crisis. Of all interventions two mechanisms call for particular attention: the national flagship cash-transfer programme and the Covid-19 extra-budgetary fund.

 

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