First of all, I would like to thank you, Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, for giving me this opportunity to address this informal meeting of development ministers.
It is, indeed, an honour and a pleasure for me to be here for several reasons:
It is an honour to speak in such an august setting and to such a prestigious audience, made up of numerous friends of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), some of whom know my country very well, and also many friends who know it less well and often have a rather negative view of it; today, I have the opportunity to make them better acquainted with it.
It is an honour to be able to say thank you – thank you to your countries, thank you to the international organisations of which you are members and thank you to the people who have often become personally involved, sometimes beyond the call of duty, in helping the DRC to get back onto the road of peace and stability.
And, finally, it is a pleasure for me to be able to talk about a new Congo, a Congo that is starting afresh, a Congo of opportunities and of hope.
The free, democratic and transparent elections that were held in 2006 and the victory in those elections of President Joseph Kabila have indeed opened up a new vision of peace and political stability for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The fact that my country has achieved an outcome such as this is thanks in large part to the considerable support offered by the international community during one of the most critical periods of our history. It is also thanks to the resolute perseverance and determination of several figures, including Commissioner Louis Michel, and the equally effective efforts of former Special Envoy Mr Aldo Ajello. I welcome the presence here today of his successor, Mr. Van de Geer, and wish him every success for his mission. I must express our gratitude, because the presence of the European Union was one of the main guarantees for the success of an undertaking upon which – you know – few would have cared to place a wager five years ago.
However, let us give credit where it is due: the first and foremost guarantee for the success of this undertaking was of course the presence at the head of the country of President Joseph Kabila, who with his discernment, his clear thinking and his wisdom was not only the catalyst for this support and international backing but above all the architect of a true reconciliation between all the sons and daughters of the Congo.
After a long period of transition, the Democratic Republic of Congo now has democratically elected institutions: a President, a National Assembly, a Senate and a Government.
In economic terms, encouraging results have been achieved during the course of the last few years. For example, the inflation rate, which was 511% in 2000, had fallen to 18.21% at the end of 2006. The economic growth rate, which was negative in 2000, has been reversed and is now 6.8%.
Unfortunately, despite a level of assistance which has been regularly increased since the start of the transition, the situation in which the Congolese people are living, all 60 million souls, continues to be totally precarious. In 2005, the Democratic Republic of Congo was 167th (out of 177) in the UNDP Human Development Index. 48.7% of the population is younger than 25. In 2005, the under-five mortality rate was over 11%, only 29% of the population was vaccinated, only 60% of births were attended by health workers. In the DRC, life expectancy is just 44 years, only 22% of the population has access to safe drinking water and only 6% to electricity, a cruel contrast to the country’s hydroelectric potential.
The main challenge remains, however, the reconstruction of the country in all sectors and areas of life. That is why the elected government has elaborated a programme based on the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. This paper was adopted after all levels of the population were consulted in a participatory process. The programme is founded on five pillars: (1) good governance, peace and reinforcing institutions; (2) consolidating macro-economic stability for growth; (3) improving access to basic social services and reducing vulnerability; (4) fighting HIV/AIDS and (5) support for community dynamics. Furthermore, the vision of the Head of State is perfectly incorporated in the programme through the five areas which the Congolese have chosen to focus on, namely infrastructure; water and electricity; education; health; and finally, employment and housing.
All these programmes will require a colossal effort over the next five years and huge sums of money, which the Congolese cannot mobilise by themselves. We therefore ask for your support. That is why, in addition to the general programme, the Congolese government has been keen to make the good governance compact its own by enshrining it in a true contract of governance. Under the terms of this contract, structural reforms and decisive actions will be undertaken with regard to security, the army, the police, justice, public financial management, transparency and combating corruption, natural resource management, local government and the business climate.
Referring to the last of these areas, improving the business climate is a major concern of the Congolese government. During the past few years many measures have already been initiated, including a new exchange rate system, a new code of investment, the creation of a National Investment Agency, a new mining code and registry, a new forest code, with a special commission that is already up and running for the granting of forestry concessions, the creation of commercial courts (one court is already in operation in Kinshasa), a new labour code, a framework law for telecommunications and another for postal services. To guarantee investments, the Democratic Republic of Congo has rejoined the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and has recently become a member of the African Credit Insurance Agency. Last February, the government took the first steps towards joining the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). The DRC is more actively involved than ever in all regional meetings on the subject of security, peace and development in the Great Lakes region. In this respect, my country is seriously contemplating the resumption in the near future of the activities of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL).
With regard to investments, the elected government will endeavour to strengthen the public-private partnership. A number of bills for reforming public enterprises have been submitted to parliament. In this connection, there are plans to submit a framework law for the economic revival of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In conclusion, what do the Congolese expect from their European partners?
First and foremost, the Congolese government expects a true partnership, oriented towards the issues defined by President Joseph Kabila. The recent joint mission to Kinshasa by the European Union and the World Bank, conducted by Commissioner Louis Michel and President Wolfowitz, is an exceptionally clear response and a perfect illustration of the shared desire for efficiency and complementarity which unites these two institutions in their approach to development. It signals a welcome end to the sterile competition of the recent past, something that often caused division between development partners, to the detriment of the principles enshrined in the Paris Declaration, which calls for you to pay greater attention to the beneficiaries of official development assistance by combining efficiency, harmonisation and alignment. As far as the Congolese government is concerned, we undertake to ensure more efficient and thorough coordination of external resources.
As part of this new direction, the adoption of the Indicative Programme of Cooperation between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Kingdom of Belgium, as well as the signing of a Framework Partnership Document, which will soon establish a new cooperation arrangement between France and the DRC, are two examples of remarkable advances in recognising the concerns and priorities of my country in terms of development aid.
The Congolese government, given the multiple challenges we are facing and the urgency of the political and economic situation in the DRC, wishes to make a resounding appeal – perhaps I might call it the "Petersberg Appeal" – inviting you to mobilise all your energies and resources once again for the implementation in Congo of development projects with a visible impact, for example in basic infrastructure, health and education, in order to restore hope to a population that has so patiently awaited the election with thoughts of a better tomorrow. A young, dynamic, hardworking population that is open-minded and welcoming, without religious taboos and with infinite creative imagination. A population surprising in its life force, its courage in the face of adversity, its powers of resistance, optimism and joie de vivre. A population that has shown all those qualities during the electoral process over the past two years.
But also a population that has seen so much suffering, that continues to suffer, and that could – if we do not watch out – plunge back into the despair, the divisions and the conflicts of the past if the peace dividend and the benefits of the elections fail to materialise!
Therefore, the Congolese government suggests the following:
1. Accelerated procedures should be adopted for the disbursement of funds based on the model developed by the World Bank and recently announced in Kinshasa by President Wolfowitz.
2. Mechanisms that can be used instead of conventional budget support should be sought, in order to respond to the urgency of the situation caused by the end of the transition regime and the establishment of new elected institutions.
3. The priorities of each development partner should be clearly defined with regard to the priorities established by President Kabila. In this context, we welcome the road project trust fund initiative, to be headed in some form by Great Britain, and the prospect of a river shipping project, which the Belgian Minister for Cooperation has communicated to us. I hardly need to remind you that navigable waterways are the first Congolese highways!
4. Discussions should be opened with a view to adopting a new economic programme in order to reach HIPC completion point and benefit from the positive effects of debt cancellation by the middle of 2008.
5. There should be support to strengthen cross-sectoral capacities, particularly administrative capacities for decentralisation and for establishing the new provincial institutions. Indeed the installation of the elected provincial assemblies and provincial governments and the division during the next few years of DRC into 26 provinces instead of the current 11, as envisaged in the constitution, is a major challenge.
6. There should be joint reflection on the future of Congolese forests and on applying the compensation principle, which Congo might expect if the concept of avoided forest exploitation is followed.
Commissioner Louis Michel, a few days ago in Kinshasa, at the side of President Kabila and President Wolfowitz, you confided in us the philosophy that has always guided you throughout your long career and particularly in approaching the file on Congo: always meet pessimistic thinking with an optimistic will.
Now it is our turn to confide in you: that will, Minister, European Commissioner, distinguished guests, is something – I can assure you – that we Congolese will never lack!