By Deng Riak Khoryoam, South Sudan
December 9, 2010 (SSNA) — As the countdown to the January 9 date nears, and as the voter registration finally came to a close yesterday, there are still a lot of doubts about the credibility of the Southern Sudan referendum commission, and more specially its chief. The credibility and the ability of the commission to carry out this crucial exercise free of manipulations and double-trickery is being put to test and will thus determine its capability at the first place. The commission has a daunting at hand to prove to the people of Sudan and Southerners in particular that they are capable to do what it takes, and that indeed, it was an (national) exercise worth participating in.
The primary responsibility of ensuring a peaceful, transparent, fair and free referendum with credible outcome, and whose results is not subject to dispute/objections by Southern voters, lies in their domains. If mishandled, this could cause chaos and this may drag the country into mayhem; as this would be a catastrophe, with serious ramifications to this beloved country of ours before we realize it. This is something we should all work to forestall or pre-empt, and it’s in the interest of all peace-loving people/Sudanese in this critical juncture in our country’s history!
Now something has been disturbing me for the past couple of months; and I believe I share this with other concerned citizens in the Sudan and South Sudan in particular and it’s about the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, also known as SSRC, whose head or Chief, Prof. Mohammed Khalil Ibrahim is under credibility question, let alone impartiality. In any country governed by democratic principles and values, a person who is to be put or appointed as a head of an independent commission i.e. SSRC is supposed to be put under public scrutiny for credibility purposes of that commission, if the people are to expect credible results out of it before such individual person can be appointed by the appointing authority, be it executive or legislative branch of the government. This is to ensure that the credibility/integrity of the whole commission is not compromised by the head with tarnished image or reputation and whose record of the past does not merit him/her the position, since the purpose of forming that legally instituted entity is to serve the interest of the nation as it discharges its duties and obligations.
To put it into our context in Sudan, it’s not the case. People or individual persons are appointed to head independent commissions even though they don’t seem to qualify or to meet the criterion of such high positions, and it’s based on their ‘close’ relationship with the executive. There are other good examples to support what I am saying herein but I specifically chose to talk about the SSRC’s predicament. Professor Mohammed Khalil Ibrahim was appointed by a presidential degree months after the parties to the comprehensive peace agreement or call them ‘CPA partners’ were deadlocked over who should head it (the SSRC), as the country prepares itself for the “inevitable” break-up of the country into two, as all indicators show. To break the impasse or deadlock, the SPLM who was keen on the formation of the commission as a matter of urgency, had to capitulate to NCP’s unrealistic demands of the secretary general in addition to the head of commission so that the ‘long awaited’ commission could finally take up some of its duties and responsibilities in line with the referendum act of 2009 and the ICOS, 2005.
However, something essential was not taken into consideration when picking, choosing or appointing the commission’s head and it’s none other than the credibility question, inter alia. It goes without saying that certain values should have been taken into consideration before appointing him to such a challenging task of organizing and overseeing this crucial vote – the referendum for the people of Southern Sudan. The values I am talking about here are not limited to: integrity, impartiality and his credibility to head the commission besides being non-partisan. These values should not have been ignored if the political class in this country wanted a plebiscite that the voters would trust, and which could ultimately provide a conducive atmosphere for its conduct. But failure to observe these values in the first place resulted in what we’d all seen and heard: the commission’s chief was accused by his first SG of being a dictator after he resigned from his position, citing dictatorship and ‘difficulties’ in working relationship with his boss. This precipitated some kind of leadership crisis, and was thus a big blow to the already crumbled leadership of SSRC. Another Secretary General (second one) was again appointed by the NCP to step in the former SG’s shoes; he again got frustrated days after his appointment, by the very Prof. Mohammed Khalil and tendered his resignation but was asked to stay put/on by President Al Bashir.
And to the chagrin of many, he (Prof.Khalil) has been trying in vain to lobby or put forward proposals to the presidency to push the date forward as it claims that it has very “limited time” to conduct the referendum. To make matters worse, he is seen to be leaning too much on the side of NCP, hence he is partial in the sense that this is to the advantage of one party as opposed to taking a neutral role in these slippery flat forms. Surprisingly yet, the same pitfall situation happened in the South as well, his deputy, who is the head of SSRB, Justice Chan Reec Madut, unfortunately, does not also possess the above values either. One of the senior members in the Bureau resigned citing dictatorship and poor working relationship as he keeps his subordinates in darkness/on their toes while maintaining a close contact with Khartoum. All these schemes are designed by the two ruling parties to make flimsy excuses as justifications for the postponement of the vote owing to time constraint or lack of time, something which will never go down well with voters who are just eagerly waiting for the 9th January date to cast their vote.
In conclusion, I think the political class should draw a lesson out of this scenario as a ‘lesson learnt’ for future success of national events like elections or referenda. It would be imprudent to fall into the same trap again, which I think we should try to avoid at all cost next time, since this situation is irreversible now; as we are left with only a few weeks before January, 9th. We still don’t know the fate of the commission itself or the head till January 9th; he may resign early January before that date, making it impossible to hold the referendum on the stipulated date/time as he mentioned yesterday that “I will not beg anymore, if there is no money we will just stop”. This is what Dr. James Okuk predicted or foretold in one of his best articles entitled: “What if the leadership of the commission resigns”? This is a possibility too. Nothing could be further from the truth here! I could see the rationale/philosophy behind Dr. James’s concern, and it’s a genuine one.
The author of this article is Deng Riak Khoryoam, he lives in South Sudan and he is reachable on email@example.com