Views from the Field: Q&A with Thierry Cozier, EU Head of Cooperation in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone has been successful in building peace and developing its economy since the end of the civil war in 2002, largely thanks to resources from iron ore exports. Despite these advances, the Ebola crisis of 2014 entailed a dramatic setback to the economy as it resulted in a sharp drop in commodity prices on international markets.
While the EU has been a key partner for decades, it continues to play an important role in the country’s recovery process. Thierry Cozier joined the Delegation as Head of Cooperation in 2015, setting the restructuring of cooperation activities in the post-Ebola era as a key priority, along with recruiting new colleagues.
Capacity4Dev (C4D): What is the country context of Sierra Leone and how is the European Commission involved there?
Mr. Thierry Cozier (TC): Sierra Leone is still a fragile country in many ways. The effects of the civil war, which lasted from 1991 until 2002, can still be felt. The education rate during this period was so low that a whole generation of people have never been to school – so illiteracy is very high, especially in rural areas. Public service delivery and administration is weak, corruption is widespread, and the mismanagement of public affairs is a major concern affecting development. However, the security situation is okay and the country is recognised for its peacebuilding success and remarkable religious tolerance.
Currently, we focus on three main sectors under the National Indicative Programme: governance, which includes a big component of budget support, education, and agriculture and food security. We also support two very important transport infrastructure projects with a combination of resources from the 10th and 11th European Development Fund (EDF) national and regional indicative programmes.
C4D: What have you been doing to improve food security?
TC: Even though nature is generous in Sierra Leone, the agricultural industry is not producing enough for the country to be self-sufficient. A good deal of the food is imported, at a great cost to the country. For example, cheap rice is imported from Asian countries and competes with local production, hampering the growth of small farmers.
We try to prioritise agriculture policy and support the Ministry of Agriculture. We also work on promoting value chains to generate exports and bring in foreign currency. At the moment, these are not well developed, but include cashew nuts, coffee, and cocoa.
"Cheap rice is imported from Asian countries and competes with local production, hampering the growth of small farmers" © Africa Renewal/Flickr
There are problems with nutrition, as the diet is not well balanced, especially for infants. The food often lacks protein, so we try to promote crops like peas and beans, though diet diversification is a slow process. We do this through policies at the ministerial level, but also through the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute, which is working on improving seeds to produce a better yield with higher nutritive qualities.
We also try to help the smallholders by giving them opportunities to market their production above the subsistence level, which they can sell at market for cash, creating a virtuous cycle. This is supported by work we have done on improving transportation so that food produced locally can reach towns and cities.
C4D: What are you doing on governance and budget support?
TC: The government lacks the revenue to cover the budget; there’s always a gap between what is planned, what is collected and the projected expenditures. We contribute to cover this gap. We also promote domestic revenue mobilisation to improve the government’s collecting of taxes and other incomes, because we want to make sure that at one point they will no longer require assistance.
We are also encouraging them to avoid importing things that can be produced locally. I mentioned rice before, as purchasing it on the international markets consumes a lot of foreign currency. This is especially difficult at the moment, as Sierra Leone is handicapped by the low price of iron ore – their principal source of foreign currency – on the international market.
The two main mines producing iron ore stopped working during the Ebola outbreak, and only one of them has resumed business since, so revenue is much lower than before. The mining sector also includes diamonds and other minerals. Unfortunately, diamonds are mined informally – though substantially – before most of them are smuggled out of the country. The government isn’t able to collect taxes or establish a proper revenue from them because of this.
Watch Thierry Cozier discuss the impact of Ebola on cooperation here:
C4D: Do you have anti-corruption programmes?
TC: Yes, corruption is a cross-cutting issue in all sectors, so we try to put the necessary safeguards in our programmes to limit it to a minimum. We follow the EDF procedures in most cases. We also use direct management: we sign contracts on behalf of the government with private entities, or even NGOs, and pay them directly to avoid some of the steps where we’ve noticed problems.
We are also trying to address corruption through political dialogue, and put pressure on the government to improve their own procedures. We do this with the aim of enhancing the role of the Auditor General and the Anti-corruption Commission. Unfortunately, these are somewhat part of the government, so don’t have the independence they’d need to really be effective.
The major problem lies in impunity – even if a case of corruption is perfectly identified, not much happens as the justice system doesn’t work properly. We do not support the justice system directly, but the UK, which is the main bilateral contributor to Sierra Leone, does. Like with other sectors, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
C4D: You collaborate with other Member States, but are not engaged in joint programming, why is this?
TC: There are three Members States present in Sierra Leone. The UK is the main one; Germany and Ireland are present too, but have a rather small presence with regard to cooperation volumes. Unfortunately, there is no consular office, so no Schengen visa can be produced in Sierra Leone – it’s a problem which is raised quite often.
The UK, of course, has the biggest development programme, but just as we were about to start discussing joint programming, they filed for Brexit, so discussions were stopped.
C4D: Do you collaborate with other EU Delegations at a regional level?
TC: At a regional level we’re in close contact with the Delegation in Abuja, Nigeria, which manages the Regional Indicative Programme and support to ECOWAS programmes. For example, even though it is not a focal sector, we have money invested in transport with part of these funds being regional, as they connect Sierra Leone to Liberia. We also have a component in the transport sector that looks at policies and governance financed through regional funds.
We are further establishing a competitiveness programme, which is being prepared by our colleagues in Abuja. There is a specific envelope for Sierra Leone, where we will contribute to value chain development by enhancing commercial prospects. This will work in complementarity of our programme to increase the production of cash crops, notably coffee and cocoa.
Coffee and cocoa go mainly to the Ivory Coast or Ghana for processing, allowing for a degree of regional trade before products reach the international market. This isn’t done domestically as the levels of production haven’t met the critical mass to have an industry.
C4D: Do you collaborate with other Directorates-General of the European Commission?
TC: Sierra Leone's fishing sector needs attention – it’s not producing revenue to its potential, though many foreign trawlers plunder the fish stocks of national waters. We are working on facilitating fishery regulations between DG MARE (Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) and the Government on the full implementation of the EU Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) policy for this reason.
"Sierra Leone's fishing sector needs attention – it’s not producing revenue to its potential, though many foreign trawlers plunder the fish stocks of national waters"
At the moment, Sierra Leone has a yellow card from DG Mare, which means that they are not collaborating sufficiently on IUU. This is due to the lack of political will from the authorities to monitor and effectively control the actors in fisheries.
In addition to problems with illegal fishing, Sierra Leone is unable to export its catches to Europe for lack of proper certification. These aspects are managed by DG SANTE (Directorate General for Health and Food Safety) and focuses on quality and sanitation standards.
C4D: How can Sierra Leone advance on this front?
TC: Fisheries need to be better regulated to meet IUU criteria – operators need formal licenses, and fishing practices and the volume of fish caught needs to be monitored. At the moment, we know there is some corruption in this sector. We know there are boats that, even if they have some sort of license, fish far more than they are allowed to and export directly to Asian countries, or transfer their catches to Senegal. From there, the fish can get a "Senegalese label" and be exported to Europe – but that’s not the proper way.
C4D: Do you feel the involvement of the Delegation has improved since you’ve been in office?
TC: Well, we have the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are based on a number of parameters like the financial volume of contracts signed and payments processed compared to the year's objectives. We also have to make forecasts in January, which we review at mid-year and at the end of the year to see if they were followed – Sierra Leone used to be one of the worst performing countries in Africa, and now we are near the top, so there’s been a lot of improvement.
I suppose I’ve done a good job with the team, because the results come from team work, and the Head of Cooperation’s role is to manage them and also to create good synergies with our colleagues of the finance and contract section. Having good relations with the national authorities is also essential to record the implementation progress of our interventions.
Recruiting the right people is very complicated sometimes, especially in countries like Sierra Leone where we don’t have many candidates applying. The negative images of Sierra Leone are still in our minds and it’s difficult to overcome these prejudices which are now clearly obsolete.
C4D: Do you have any advice on how to improve KPI’s?
TC: The leitmotiv of one of the previous Director Generals was “nettoyer le poids du passé” – “clean up your portfolio, so you don’t spend too much energy on old things”. This is so you can concentrate on ongoing programmes from the design stage onwards and ensure proper monitoring to avoid problems that would need more resources later. It takes teamwork and good cooperation between the operations and the finance and contract people because both departments are closely involved.