Arriving in Brussels a day after receiving France's highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Thursday addressed the Belgian Senate, as well as the Committee of Ambassadors of the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP), on the post-2015 global development framework, in her capacity as one of three co-Chairs of the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons established to craft a successor development agenda to the Millennium Development Goals.
According to a dispatch from Brussels, President Sirleaf was welcomed by the President of the Belgian Senate, Madame Sabine de Bethune, and addressed an audience that included parliamentarians, representatives of non-governmental and civil society organizations, and students.
In her presentation, the Liberian leader recalled Liberia's long relationship with Belgium, which she said was being rebuilt after the country's civil war. She then spoke of rebuilding upon the Liberia she inherited, guided by the four Pillars of the Poverty Reduction Strategy. Among the challenges the country faces are, she said, youth unemployment, many of them former child soldiers; and capacity problems. At the same time, President Sirleaf mentioned Liberia's goal to no longer require official development assistance in a decade, and to become a middle-income nation by 2030, in keeping with its Vision 2030 agenda.
Speaking next on the work of the High-Level Panel, the President said that the 24 members and 3 co-Chairs were engaging in a robust consultative process; and determining how to achieve as many of the Millennium Development Goals as possible in the remaining three years until 2015. The Panel, she said, was guided by three basic themes: economic growth; social equity; and environmental sustainability. The situation of fragile States would also need to be considered.
It was people everywhere – including parliamentarians, civil society organizations and others – who would dictate the terms of the framework, President Sirleaf said, adding that a report is to be submitted to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June. She said that the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa and civil society organizations in Africa were already making their contributions. Following the recent HLP meeting in London, the next one would be held in Monrovia in January, to be followed by another meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, in March.
Concluding, President Sirleaf spoke of an interdependent world, with everyone a part of each other's supply chain, and that integration will make the world a safer place for all.
In the interactive session which followed, President Sirleaf responded to a range of questions: how she could help save the Democratic Republic of the Congo; women's education and development; what Western countries could do to ensure that as many MDGs as possible are achieved; how to ensure that human rights are respected around the world; the need for a healthy society in order to achieve other Goals; the situations in Côte d'Ivoire and Mali.
Next, President Sirleaf met with the European Union's Commissioner for Development, Andris Pieblags, who informed her that Liberia would be receiving €56.5 million in new money from the EU – €42 million for maternal health, and €14.5 million for the country's macroeconomic sector. The President told him of her government's focus on infrastructure because everything depends on that. She pointed to the importance of power, noting that without it, Liberia cannot add value to its products, be it in mining, agriculture or other sector. Solving Liberia's infrastructure problems would have a major impact on its development. The President also briefed Commissioner Pieblags on the work of the High-Level Panel.
Appearing before the Committee of ACP Ambassadors – a gathering of many old friends and well-wishers, including its Secretary-General, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas – President Sirleaf was hailed as an "exceptional visitor." In her remarks, also on the work of the High-Level Panel, the President welcomed the opportunity to exchange views on the processes that will lead to development of the member countries.
She spoke first about the prevailing situation in Liberia, pointing out that Liberia, like many other countries, was not poor, but needed to better manage its natural resources. The President explained the robust consultative process, as well as the themes being examined, and she encouraged the ACP States to get involved. She informed the Ambassadors that, at the next HLP meeting in Monrovia, the panel would experience "the discomforts of a post-conflict country." The purpose of the entire exercise, she concluded, was to make the world a better place for all mankind.
Following the meeting, the President and delegation departed, by road, for The Hague, Netherlands, for a series of activities that would include a courtesy call on Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands; dinner with Their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Orange and Princess Máxima; bilateral talks with Prime Minister Mark Rutte; a meeting with Members of both Houses of the Dutch Parliament; and ceremonies at Tilburg University to mark that institution's 85th anniversary, or Dies, including delivering the Dies Lecture, on "International Social Responsibility," and receiving an honorary doctorate degree, Doctor Honoris Causa.