President Sirleaf Addresses Diamond Conference

Tuesday, 16th October 2007
President Sirleaf chats with Diamond Conference President.
President Sirleaf chats with Diamond Conference President.
Photo Credit: Adama B. Thompson/Executive Mansion
Antwerp, Belgium - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has told a conference on diamonds in Belgium that her government is determined to ensure that proceeds accrued from the sale of diamonds benefit Liberia and its people. Addressing the 4th Diamond Conference in Antwerp, Belgium Monday night, the President said the lifting of sanctions on the export of rough diamonds from Liberia is a challenge and government will exert every effort to meet that challenge. The President said government has undertaken several pilot initiatives to integrate and compliment the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme so as to build the partnership needed to create conditions for the sustainable use of the country’s mineral resources to overcome poverty and promote human development.

The overall objective of the pilot initiatives, an Executive Mansion dispatch from Antwerp quotes the President as saying, is to facilitate the establishment of a transparent and accountable system for the governance of diamond and other mineral revenues, based on a fair and equitable distribution system. Interventions, the President said, will be implemented on three levels, including macro policy, the grassroots/micro level and the cross border level.

At the local level, the Liberian leader said, the aim is to induce more diamond revenues to flow back into the community. This, the President said, will be achieved by supporting individuals and miners associations and unions, for the reorganization and re-capitalization of the mining sector, while at the same time developing local capacities at institutional local government and private sector levels for the management of investment funds. “The local authority with the full participation of civil society will determine the development needs of the community and use the funds accordingly,” the President emphasized.

At the macro or policy level, the Liberian leader noted, it is important to put in place more effective and transparent legal tools for governing the mining sector and the use of its revenues.  The missing legal and technical tools for the sustainable governance of the revenues from mineral resources, the President said, will be developed based on lessons learned from local pilot tests.

President Johnson Sirleaf said the government’s intention is to introduce sustainable and lasting changes in the sub-sector by revising the legal mining framework, in harmony with the three neighboring countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone), focusing specifically on licensing processes and regulations, land use in relation to mining, decent labor in artisanal mining, environmental issues related to mining, among others. The President maintained that the attribution of responsibilities between central and local authorities must be revised and harmonized, to ensure that local authorities are given the necessary powers for governing the local aspects of mining activities.

Meanwhile, the Irish-born pop star and humanitarian Bob Geldof has criticized industrialized countries for exploiting the natural resources of Africa and given little or nothing in return. Mr. Geldof said too often, rich and powerful nations put stumbling blocks in the way to impede Africa’s development. He said there is no reason why a child in Africa should go to bed hungry when the continent’s natural resources are being exploited. Africa, the activist said, is part of the global world and cannot be left at the will of rich and powerful nations. “How can you have millions of people in abject poverty, when just 12 miles away from your door steps there is plenty,” Mr. Geldof wondered. The pop star also criticized industrialized countries for not fulfilling their promises of assistance to Africa, adding, “When the powerful makes a promise to the weak, when the rich makes a promise to the poor and breaks that promise; it kills.”

Referring to the continent’s debt burden, with specific reference to Liberia, the activist regretted that while much progress has been made in relieving the country of its debt burden, too much bottlenecks are created by international lending institutions to meet the requirements for debt waiver. “One of you in this room are capable of writing a check for a hundred million dollars to remove this burden over a country struggling to get back on its feet,” Geldof said, amidst a standing ovation from the audience.

Mr. Geldof, who also criticized African leaders who ignore the plight of their people for selfish gains, called for equal trade between Africa and the industrialized world, so as to open up African markets. There is an urgent need, he said, to address this glaring disparity which, he argued, is also about human rights.

The two-day Antwerp conference is focusing on the shift of power in the diamond industry and the increasing demand by producer countries that diamonds be sorted and processed in countries where they are mined. The countries are also calling for the adoption of legislation that will make the proposals a statutory obligation.

President Johnson Sirleaf leaves for the United States Tuesday at the start of a week-long visit.  While in the United States, the President will be the guest of honor at this year’s Africare annual fund-raising event, at which time the Liberian leader will receive the Bishop Walker Humanitarian Award. The President will also hold discussions with United States President George Bush, executives of International Financial Institutions including the World Bank, and officials at the U.S. Treasury Department, among others. The President will also participate in fund raising events for the Liberia Education Trust and a volunteer health organization known as HEARTT.