HC Deb 25 November 2002 vol 395 cc31-2W
John Barrett

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what progress is being made in improving the judicial system in Sierra Leone. [82658]

Clare Short

The Sierra Leone judiciary has been in a state of decline for at least the last 30 years. Its operational independence has been deeply undermined. Low pay is a cause of poor morale and contributes to all round ineffectiveness. Investment in training and infrastructure has been minimal. The perception in Sierra Leone is that it is unresponsive, unaccountable, corrupt and inaccessible. It is neither trusted nor respected.

Starting from this very low base my Department has been working with the Sierra Leone judiciary to support reform. Assistance to date has concentrated on the restoration of infrastructure, the provision of equipment, court recording systems and procedures and legal drafting.

We are considering a further programme of assistance that would take an integrated approach to the justice system (police, legal and judicial and penal systems). This will be a joint project with the World Bank. We expect the UN agencies active in Sierra Leone and the Commonwealth Secretariat to take part. We intend the programme to take place over at least five years.

John Barrett

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what progress is being made towards the alleviation of poverty in Sierra Leone. [82661]

Clare Short

Sierra Leone agreed an interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) with the international financial institutions in September 2001. It outlines a post-conflict transitional phase focused on restoration of security, re-launching the economy, and provision of basic services to the most vulnerable groups. Longer term programmes for poverty reduction will be contained in a full PRSP that the Government of Sierra Leone intend to prepare by late 2003. Agreement of a full PRSP will be the key step for an agreed agenda between the Government of Sierra Leone and the donor community for poverty reduction.

Peace was declared in Sierra Leone in January this year. Inevitably, the Government's initial focus has been on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants, and measures to assist the millions of internally displaced persons and returning refugees. After 10 years of conflict, Sierra Leone faces a huge task in developing and implementing policies to address poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals. There are some encouraging developments, for example, in improving primary school enrolment and immunisation rates, but much remains to be done in a country severely damaged by conflict.

We are supporting a major programme of support to reform and poverty reduction in Sierra Leone, including direct assistance with the preparation of a full PRSP. Under the Poverty Reduction Framework Arrangement signed with the Government of Sierra Leone this month, we have committed £120 million over the next three years, as part of a 10-year commitment of support. This complements the US$172 million poverty reduction and growth facility agreed by Sierra Leone with the IMF in September 2001, and the US$950 million of debt relief available through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, both of which will assist Sierra Leone to address recovery and poverty reduction.

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