President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Addresses Canada 20/20 Public Policy Conference

Wednesday, 28th March 2007
Monrovia, Liberia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has urged the government of Canada and the Developed World to direct the bulk of foreign assistance funds toward countries that have embraced democracy, transparency and accountability. Foreign assistance Funds, the President noted, must also be directed towards countries which have overcome their macroeconomic and debt problems and have designed strong poverty reduction programs. These countries, the President maintained, have the best chance of succeeding over the long run. The Liberian leader acknowledged the risks along the way, as in the case of the private sector, where every investment may not succeed, but emphasized that over the long run, these countries provide the best hope for sustained growth and poverty reduction in Africa.

According to an Executive Mansion release, President Johnson Sirleaf made the remarks on Tuesday in a speech delivered at a Public Policy Conference in Toronto, Canada. The Conference is examining practical solutions and policy choices for the 21st century

The President praised the Canadian government for its recommitment to doubling its foreign assistance by 2011, adding that the commitment is of enormous importance to Africa. President Johnson Sirleaf, however, urged the Canadian government and people to ensure that assistance funds are directed at countries that can use them most effectively. Significant amounts of foreign aid, the President observed, have been wasted in the past on the wrong kinds of activities and the wrong kinds of governments. Despite the misplacements, the Liberian leader, however, pointed out that substantial amounts of foreign assistance have been used well in activities that do not always make the headlines. “It has contributed in large measures to the shift from dictatorship to democracy, from dependency to self sufficiency, from aid increasingly to trade,” President Johnson Sirleaf told the Canada 20/20 Public Policy Conference.

The President observed that there are many ways wealthier countries of the world engage with the poorest countries in Africa, including trade, investment, migration, and through international bodies such as the United Nations. In the long run, President Johnson Sirleaf noted, trade is the most powerful. The President called on developed countries to remove trade barriers that bar African products from the world markets. “The world cannot preach to us the benefits of free markets, while at the same time they keep their markets closed,” the President maintained.

Meanwhile, the President has called for strong international support to help the country address the development and reconstruction challenges. Liberia’s recovery, the President said, will depend mainly on the actions of Liberians themselves, but because of the extent of the destruction from the war, the country requires strong international support.

The President appealed to Canada to invest in the country’s private sector. She said government would welcome investment from Canadian firms that would bring world-class technologies and management, to help the country develop its natural resources prudently and sustainably for the benefit of Liberians.

The Chief Executive is calling on Canada to also help support comprehensive debt relief for Liberia, to ensure that funds for debt relief are not diverted from schools, roads, and other development activities. Canada is a major shareholder in each of the institutions Liberia owes in multi-lateral debt, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the African Development Bank (ADB).
The President also called on Canada to directly support Liberia’s recovery by helping finance the country’s reconstruction and development programs. She praised Canada for its contribution to the country’s emergency and humanitarian relief programs over the years, and expressed the hope that Canada can become an important supporter in helping Liberia rebuild its health and education programs.

The President has already held talks with Canadian government officials including the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper; the President of the Canadian International Development Agency, Mr. Robert Greenhill as well the Governor-general of Canada, the Rt. Honorable Michaëlle Jean.

Read full text of President Sirleaf's Speech.