Chretien speaks his mind to African nations

Dec 05, 2003 01:00 AM

Prime Minister Jean Chretien delivered a blunt message to African leaders and business people, telling them they had to clean up corruption and stop their "bloody" wars if they expect Canada and other developed nations to invest in their continent. Less than 10 days before he retires, Chretien did not hesitate to speak his mind as he fielded questions from Commonwealth business leaders looking for handouts from Canada and other rich nations.
"You want investment, then you have to do what is needed to have investment. You need good administration for the people to invest to develop business. You need political stability. Stop this bloody conflict that you have too often in some parts of Africa. This is a reality," snapped Chretien, during a question-and-answer session with 200 members of the business and political delegation. "I'm probably blunt, but I don't have to be elected here."

Chretien, who will attend the three-day biannual meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, warned that investors will take their money elsewhere if they do not sense a feeling of confidence in the African market.
"If they feel that honesty is there, that if there is a conflict there will be an honest system of justice, that the decisions of the courts will be implemented, that human rights will be protected, that the elections will be fair, nervousness will disappear," he said.

Chretien had just delivered an upbeat speech to the Commonwealth Business Forum, praising the goal African countries have set to create a better investment environment on the continent. His speech was well-received by many of the business leaders, including SNC-Lavalin International senior vice-president Robert Blackburn.
Also chair of the Canadian Council on Africa, Blackburn said although corruption is part of the African system, it is still possible to have successful business dealings on the continent and pointed out his company has had projects here for 35 years. Government officials said the average return on business investment in Africa is 29 %, higher than anywhere else in the world.

But Chretien was grilled by business people who called on him to do more. One told Chretien that corruption is a serious problem in Nigeria, but that foreigners are also responsible for it because they often pay bribes. Chretien snapped back that Canada has already implemented a law making it illegal to pay bribes for services abroad and added that Canadians working overseas have been served notice they are to report any such cases of corruption.
Chretien was even more abrupt with a Nigerian woman who called on him to lead a campaign to pressure rich countries to forgive debts owed them by Nigeria and other African nations. He said Canada has been at the forefront of eliminating debt for poor countries but noted Nigeria, a country rich in oil, is far from being in that category.

Source: CanWest News Service
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