President Koromaâ€™s Speech Distributed In Saudi Arabia
Your Royal Highness, Highnesses, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, LadiesÂ and Gentlemen: I would first like to thank the Governor of the Mecca Province, His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Bin Faisal al-Saud, H.E. Abdullah Ahmad Zainal Alireza, Minister of Commerce and Industry, H.E. Sheikh Saleh Kamel, Chairman of the Board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Mr. Abdulaziz Sager, Chairman of the Gulf Research Center. I am deeply honoured to have this opportunity to take part in todayâ€™s session of the Jeddah Economic Forum. (Photo: Information AttachÃ© delivering a speech to over 1,000 delegates at the JEF)Â
My task here this afternoon is to highlight and distribute President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s speech at the Trade and Investment Forum in London, UK, hosted by the Government of Sierra Leone last November as requested by one of the speakers this morning. I have printed out about 500 copies today and will print another 500 for tomorrow’s session so that everybody will get a copy. I want to personally thank Mr. Abdul Aziz Tariq, a well known Middle East investor for the compliments he gave about Sierra Leone and his impression about my President’s speech. The speech gave a comprehensive picture of investment opportunities in Sierra Leone.
Before that, let me also on behalf of my Ambassador, H.E. Wusu B. Munu, who is currently out of the country; thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for setting a remarkable example in providing concessional development assistance for Sierra Leone.
Mr. Chairman, the Kingdom’s role in international cooperation for development and poverty eradication is reflected in its unerring support to Sierra Leone over the years and I should like to acknowledge the role your country is playing in our developmental projects – The rehabilitation of the Kingtom Power Station and the Kenema â€“ Pendembu road projects by the Saudi Fund is a clear manifestation that your government is determined to help Sierra Leone.
Mr. Chairman, I am impressed with the theme of this yearâ€™s Jeddah Economic Forum which is â€œGlobal Economy 2020â€. Since the start of this Forum, I noticed that, most of the speakers are focusing on global macroeconomic issues, which is very important for both developed and developing countries.
For the fact that Sierra Leone was not included in this plenary session on the topic: “Tackling Protectionism in Trade and Investment”, I would like to use this opportunity to give you a brief description of my country, Sierra Leone and the President’s Agenda For Change â€“ The country is remarkably beautiful, with pristine beaches, green mountains, and jungles that remain largely untouched. Our President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, is working assiduously to maximize our tourism potential by supporting the development and promotion of sustainable ecotourism resources and enhancing the country’s image as a middle-and up-market tourist destination. At the same time, our strategy four tourism development mirrors our firm belief that responsibility for delivering national economic growth requires a strong partnership between the public and private sectors.
Mr. Chairman, our Government’s Agenda for Change is inextricably linked to the pursuit of inclusive, broadly based, private sector-led growth. This is reflected in our commitment to reforms, enhancement of required infrastructure, and development of entrepreneurial and technical skills, all of which will make it easier to do business in Sierra Leone. Partnerships with the private sector will ensure that we deliver on the promises we have made to our people, and we are thrilled that you are considering such a partnership.
We look forward to you visiting our great country, to experience first hand the beauty and remarkable investment opportunities in Sierra Leone.
I want to encourage all of you to visit my beautiful country, you will not be disappointed.
From that point, the following speech by President Ernest Bai Koroma was distributed to about 500 delegates, out of 1,000 delegates from over 160 countries around the world who attended the 10th session of the 2010 Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF) at the Jeddah Hilton Hotel in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The three days Forum, organized by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and the Gulf Research Center (GRC), attracted over 400 investors, academics, economists, decision makers and experts.
President Koromaâ€™s speech at the Trade and Investment Forum
Ladies and gentlemen:
Â It is my pleasure to welcome you to this Trade and Investment Forum. Let me start by thanking all of our partners and friends who have made this event possible, especially the UK government. I am also grateful to the distinguished men and women from business, government and international organisations who have agreed to speak and make presentations. Above all, let me thank you, our distinguished guests, for coming today. I am delighted that so many of you have shown an interest in hearing what Sierra Leone has to offer, and in being part of our ambitious plans for the future. Ladies and gentlemen, a decade ago, a forum like this would have seemed like a pipedream.
As a continent, Africa was beset by a myriad of problems. It was a place for charity, but not for investment. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, average annual growth in the 1980s and 1990s had been just 2.4 per cent; Foreign Direct Investment inflows averaged less than 3 billion dollars a year. Sierra Leone epitomised these problems. Ten years on, the prospects for Africa and for Sierra Leone could not be more different.
Since 2000, Africa has enjoyed sustained economic growth of 5.5 percent a year, while FDI inflows have increased dramatically, reaching more than 63 billion dollars in 2008. And now, instead of symbolising Africaâ€™s tragedy, Sierra Leone symbolises Africaâ€™s hope.
First, conflict has given way to peace. According to the World Bank, Sierra Leone has enjoyed the fastest improvement in political stability in the world over the last decade or so. Second, the bullet has given way to the ballot. Two Presidential and parliamentary elections have been held since 2002, both judged free and fair by international observers. My election victory in 2007 ushered in a peaceful transfer of power from one party to another, highlighting the growing strength and maturity of our democracy.
Third, stagnation has given way to growth. Since the war ended in 2002, our economy expanded at an annual rate of around 6 percent. This year, even in the face of the global economic downturn, Sierra Leone will enjoy its tenth year of uninterrupted growth. Indeed, at 4 percent this year, the IMF is forecasting that Sierra Leoneâ€™s growth will be more than double the average for the rest of Africa.
As stability has returned to our country, we have been able to look beyond the troubles of the past to the promise of the future. That promise is captured in what I call my Agenda for Change. The Agenda for Change aims to put our country on the path from aid dependency to a dynamic, self-sustaining economy. It focuses on investment and reform in the key strategic sectors which are most critical to unlocking the full productive potential of our economy.
First, agriculture, which accounts for 45 percent of our GDP, 25 percent of our exports, and 66 percent of jobs. Only by increasing production and productivity can we raise rural incomes, increase food security and release productive resources to be deployed in other sectors. Second, infrastructure. Because the ability to move people, goods and machinery is integral to economic development, we have embarked on one of the most ambitious road-building programmes in our history, connecting Sierra Leoneâ€™s major cities to each other, as well as to neighbouring countries. And because rural communities will not be able to use those highways if they cannot reach them, we are also building 2000 kilometres of feeder roads. Third, energy. To power our economic development without harming the environment, we are committed to harnessing the enormous hydro-electric potential in our rivers and waterways, as well as to developing biofuels and solar energy. The recently completed Bumbuna hydro-plant is our first step towards this clean energy future.
So, with the strong foundation of stability we have laid, and with the Agenda for Change setting a clear direction for the country, Sierra Leone is finally poised to fulfil its innate economic potential. For our country is truly blessed.
Our soils are fertile and our land under-cultivated, offering ideal conditions for new investments in rice, oil palm, cocoa, coffee, and sugar. One example being presented today is an innovative new 300 million dollar biofuels project developed by Addax, which combines a 16,500 hectare sugar plantation with an independent power generation facility.
Our ground is rich in minerals: iron ore â€“ the third largest deposit in the world; bauxite, rutile, gold and yes, diamonds. Our shores boast 400 kilometres of white sandy beaches, just waiting to be developed for tourism. The Tokeh Beach Resort that you will be hearing about later today is just one of the exciting opportunities along this beautiful coastline. Our port stands out as one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, and is strategically located within easy reach of Europe, the Americas and the rest of Africa. We are inviting Expressions of Interest for the development of the port, which will drive efficiency and lower the cost of trading across borders. Our seas are some of the most well-stocked and under-fished in the world, teeming with tuna, snapper, barracuda and mackerel.
Our territorial waters also contain the Venus prospect, where Anadarko and its partners have discovered hydrocarbons. Samples have been sent for laboratory analysis while another exploratory well is planned for 2010 to determine the commercial status of the discovery. In the mean time, we are working with a team from Ghana, Norway and the Commonwealth Secretariat to create institutional arrangements for managing whatever petroleum resources exist transparently and in the long-term interests of our people. Finally, but most importantly, our people are welcoming and open, as shown by Sierra Leone having the highest levels of religious tolerance in the world according to the Gallup Co-exist Index.
With all this potential, we Sierra Leoneans know in our hearts that â€œwe have no business being poorâ€. The question is: how are we to unleash this potential? From the moment I was elected, my answer has been clear: by running the country like a business concern. Before I entered politics, I spent 24 years in business and the insurance industry. When I became President two years ago, I was determined to bring the spirit of enterprise into the affairs of government.
That is why I have been focusing on improving the investment climate by streamlining tax administration, enacting a new companies law and cutting red tape. In addition to the protections against expropriation already enshrined in the Investment Promotion Act of 2004, my government has signed Bilateral Investment Treaties and Double Taxation Treaties with other countries and is able and willing to do so as the circumstances demand. I am proud to say that Sierra Leone is now one of the top five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to investor protection and the ease of starting a business. We are also unveiling a new investment incentives schedule that creates a level playing field for investors, while improving fiscal responsibility. We are passing a new Minerals Act to ensure greater transparency and a fairer deal for investors and communities alike from our mineral resources. Finally, because we recognise that corruption can stifle enterprise and choke off growth, we have legislated to give the Anti-Corruption Commission robust new powers to tackle graft wherever they find it, while our tough new Anti-Drug Law has sent a clear signal that we will never allow our country to become a staging post for the international drugs trade. As this yearâ€™s Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index showed, our fight against corruption is working: Sierra Leone has risen 12 places in the rankings in the last year. These reforms are helping to build investor confidence. But they are just the beginning, not the end, of our efforts â€“ a down-payment if you will, on the pro-business, pro-reform agenda we are committed to pursuing in the years to come. To further strengthen investor protection, we are in the process of establishing fast-track commercial courts to ensure fair and swift settlement of disputes.
So, as a former businessman, I can promise that if you commit to investing in Sierra Leone you will find it stable and rewarding. Ladies and gentlemen, I am not blind to the challenges that face us. Too many of our people are poor and unemployed; too few have received a proper education, or can get access to quality affordable health care when they need it.
Yet for all the burdens we carry as a nation, we increasingly walk with a spring in our step. From mining to infrastructure, agribusiness to renewable energy, tourism to fisheries, our economy has great potential. The foundations have been laid; Sierra Leone is now ready for significant, high return investment. We are a people of limited means but of unlimited ambition. It is time to join us in fulfilling that ambition. It is time to think differently about Sierra Leone. It is time to visit our country and witness the opportunities it offers first hand. And when you have seen what Sierra Leone has to offer, I believe you will share my conviction that… it is time… to invest…in Sierra Leone!
Thank you.Alhaji Jalloh, Information AttachÃ©, Sierra Leone Embassy, Saudi Arabia
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