Ambassador Bryan David Hunt’s Remarks:U.S. Government Launches New Activity to Support Citizen Participation and Access to Information in Sierra

U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Mr. Bryan David Hunt Remarks: U.S. Government Launches New Activity to Support Citizen Participation and Access to Information in Sierra Leone

His Excellency the Vice President,

Honorable Ministers,

Development Partners,

Distinguished guests,

Esteemed Colleagues and Friends,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The success of Sierra Leone’s democratic journey fundamentally depends on its citizens’ ability to shape the government policies and programs that impact their communities, build inclusive and responsive government institutions, and hold their elected representatives accountable for their actions and decisions.  As we’ve seen far too often in the global community, absent active citizen voices a small unrepresentative group of political elites are left to shape government decisions in ways that represent their interests rather than community or national interests, leading to exclusion, corruption, and conflict.

For these reasons, I’m very happy and honored to join you today to launch a new democracy and governance partnership between the United States of America and Sierra Leone entitled: Building Accountability Systems through Empowered Communities.  This partnership will see us work together to establish systems and institutions that will both facilitate citizens’ participation in local government and political processes and provide them with the knowledge and skillsets to do so effectively.  This partnership will equally work closely with local governments to establish and implement transparent and accountable processes that will ensure citizens have visibility on the actions and decisions of their local representatives, are provided with regular opportunities to provide constructive feedback to local governments, and ultimately are able to work with local government institutions to improve the delivery of critical services.

Citizen participation in democratic governance and decision-making processes is a key component of good governance.  It strengthens the social contract between the government and the citizen and builds trust in government institutions and the political process – an element that has been far too lacking In Sierra Leone’s political system.  I am very pleased that we are able to launch this program shortly after the signature of the Agreement for National Cohesion between the government and the opposition All Peoples’ Congress.  That document speaks directly to the need for the sort of trust-building, truth-telling, and citizen-responsive governance that this partnership seeks to build and that will be critical for Sierra Leone to continue upon its democratic journey.  The return of the All People’s Congress to local and national institutions offers an opportunity for all Sierra Leoneans to ensure that their voices are included in the policy making and governance process in their communities.  The establishment of a broad-based committee for electoral reform provides Sierra Leoneans the chance to rebuild trust in key institutions and safeguard their voices and most importantly their votes.  It is my fervent hope that the Building Accountability Systems through Empowered Communities partnership will help provide ordinary Sierra Leoneans with the skills and tools to make their voices, their views, and their aspirations heard as these critical processes move forward.  I firmly believe that the Agreement for National Cohesion is a win for all Sierra Leoneans, but its long-term impact will depend on the depth and breadth of Sierra Leonean participation in the opportunities that it has created.

In Sierra Leone, an estimated 80 percent of the population is under the age of 34, making it one of the youngest populations in the world.  Sierra Leone is among the 10 fast-track countries to implement the Youth 2030 Agenda, the first ever UN Youth Strategy designed to engage, support, and empower young people to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  Women in Sierra Leone make up half of the population and thanks to government action more than a third of the cabinet and elected government institutions. Harnessing the potential of women and youth and ensuring their full participation in decision-making engenders transparency, improves accountability and public resource management, and brings about good policy outcomes, development, and social well-being of citizens.  It is fundamental to ensuring national cohesion and to building inclusion – aims to which both of Sierra Leone’s political parties profess to aspire.  It is for this reason that the Building Accountability Systems through Empowered Communities partnership will target these key demographics.  It will empower women and youth to demonstrate that they are capable citizens, politically aware, with the potential to be the positive forces of change, champions of good governance, and ambassadors of peace and stability that their communities urgently require.

Citizens’ participation in their country’s governance is not just a privilege; it is a right and a responsibility.  For Sierra Leoneans to live up to this responsibility, we have a shared interest to equip ordinary citizens with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to better organize themselves and effectively participate in local governance including public decision making in their communities.  The United States will continue to work in partnership with Sierra Leone to foster democracy and good governance through citizens participation.  Whether through the Building Accountability Systems through Empowered Communities partnership or our numerous other development initiatives, the United States is committed to standing with the people of Sierra Leone and working together to advance democracy, health, and prosperity.

Thank you.