ROSS must address the issue of foreign companies in South Sudan

By Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan

April 11, 2011 (SSNA) — If events in the Arab world have told anything, it’s that they did not start or happen out of the blue; they were triggered by various factors. The revolution that is currently sweeping across the Arab world did not just start without any good reasons. People were not seeking for change without any good reasons; there were strong and convincing reasons why they wanted change to finally take its course, especially in the here and now – without any procrastination. The driving or triggering factors were things like: high unemployment rate, corruption, absent of all forms of freedoms, tyrannical rules, and dictatorships, amongst others.

Last week, a good friend of mine, after having had chitchat with him, discussing issues affecting young Southern Sudanese, asked me if I could write an article on the above mentioned topic; and he explained to me why I should. Perhaps, he should have done that himself, were it not because of the nature or sensitivity of his job since he is highly placed within the system. I heeded to his request because this is something I have long been thinking about too, this thus prompted me to write this article since it’s a concern shared by many though in silence. I assured him that I would do so in the shortest time possible—and if my schedule will allow me!

I believe this is a pertinent issue that demands the attention of our leaders if they are concerned about citizens’ welfare; in other words, if they are people’s representatives or leaders. The experience of the last five or six years of the CPA era has a lot of fascinating stories to tell, especially if we want to redress the big mess that had already been done. However, having stated that, I think it’s only good to also mention that we are not captive (captivity of negativity) of the past: – it’s of paramount importance to not only appreciate the past but reflect on the past, present and the future in order to avoid the past mistakes and move forward as one people with one common objective: viable and peaceful Republic of South Sudan!

South Sudan emerged from a two decades of civil war in 2005, with the inking of the CPA that saw the end of years of sufferings and many deaths as a result of wars and the accompanying effects of it. During the wartime, many INGOs or humanitarian agencies flew in to help the needy populations of South Sudan by providing relief supplies of various forms and contents. Some of these NGOs are or have been doing this out of their concern for humanity as they try to extend God’s hand to the service of his people in Sudan and around the troubled world. However, others are driven by ulterior motives and not the genuine concerns for humanity, as their actions (not words) can actually tell.

There are many international NGOs and foreign companies operating in Southern Sudan with or without the knowledge of the government. But the most disturbing thing with these NGOs is that they recruit people from other foreign countries i.e. Kenya or Uganda to occupy positions that are meant or supposed to be held by nationals or locals. They try to justify this by saying that there are no qualified Sudanese or Southern Sudanese to hold such positions, which aren’t technical in nature but just want to justify their illegal act. We all know that before the CPA was signed, almost all the NGOs operating in South Sudan today had their headquarters in Nairobi, with few others in Kampala because of their proximity to South Sudan and only moved to Juba in late 2005 or 2006.

Now having moved to almost a lawless South Sudan, with virtually no authority to enforce local laws, if any, they (NGOs) started operating with foreign laws; which they imported together with their headquarters so as to protect the interests of those countries without due respect to Sudanese laws. Those foreign countries were/are trying to address the issue of unemployment for their citizens at the expense of the locals and are mindful of that but the poor South Sudanese government were just busy squandering public kitty and wiring it into foreign accounts for their kinsmen/women to access and enjoy it. Hence, they have no time to deal or address issues of their citizens’ concerns.

In an attempt to provide illustration as part of the empirical reference, I remember vividly when I visited the Director General (her name withheld) in the GOSS ministry of Labour, Public service and human resource development here in Juba in March, 2009, 3 days after the indictment of President Al Bashir by the ICC. I discussed with her at length about problems facing young Southern Sudanese who have papers but are just floating on the streets of Juba, lacking government’s support to secure jobs, which the foreign NGOs discriminate them on the basis of their nationality as Sudanese and not on their capacity or ability to do things. Some NGOs, instead of changing their recruitment policies so as to allow more Sudanese on board were just continuing to recruit foreigners relentlessly. Some NGOs were/are even employing tactics so as to push out those Sudanese who were critical and outspoken about unfair recruitment processes and mistreatments of the locals. A colleague of mine and a good friend became a victim and was fired on the ground that he was not complying or submissive to these policies, which we didn’t want to succumb to.

The meeting with the DG went quite well and was positive, judging from the response she gave and her facial expressions, I could sense that she’d gotten the general picture of that situation befalling Southerners. I advised her to go and make a visit to certain office of a particular NGO in person to acquaint herself with the situation and to ascertain facts on who holds what position and why? From logistics officer to almost security guards are foreigners. She then told me that she would visit that office and thanked me for informing her out of a concern for my fellow Southern Sudanese, who are being deprived of their rights to enjoy these privileges as citizens who have borne the brunt of the 22 years of civil war. I left her office and after a week or two later, I made a follow-up-call to see if she had actually made the visit or not, and guess what she told me: she could not make it because her vehicle didn’t have fuel to facilitate her movement from and to the office. The unbelievable can sometimes be believable!!

I am talking out of experience or what I know and have had to go through as a person. This is not a guess or an assumption. This is a true account of what actually happened and continue to happen as we talk. I have been made to understand that to guess is not to know and to aim is not to wander off! The peculiarity though is that even in government institutions e.g. GOSS ministries etc, there are also foreigners working in various offices and departments, let alone the foreign consultancies. We also have foreign companies and firms whose workforce is entirely drawn from outside the country without anyone questioning why they are doing that. A friend told me the other day that the only reason why the government doesn’t want to give these positions to qualified Sudanese and instead opt to give to foreigners is because they don’t want their weaknesses or lack of skills to be known since most of them got there through “Know-who” as opposed to “Know-how” and I absolutely agree with his sentiment.

The question is: how long are they going to cling onto this? And when will they start giving these opportunities to locals or nationals? I heard the minister of regional cooperation, Mr. Deng Alor saying they are planning to bring in qualified and experienced teachers from other African countries to help tackle illiteracy level in ROSS. I don’t buy this idea. I don’t think it’s a question of lacking qualified and experienced teachers in Southern Sudan but the government is just losing them to NGOs simply because they are de-motivated. We have long serving and experienced teachers in Southern Sudan; all we need or the government needs to do is to open teacher training colleges in all the ten states of Southern Sudan so as to upgrade those of the lower levels to meet the government standards. Make conditions favourable for these teachers and they will do wonders in their profession or places of work.

Hiring or bringing in teachers from outside the country will not help since its not sustainable; it may only help in the short run but we need something for the long run. Governor Taban Deng of unity state tried this project before, when he brought in teachers from Kenya and Uganda to teach in both primary and secondary levels (of education) but it failed.

Entrusting these foreigners to hold certain sensitive posts endangers our security as they will have access to this classified information. Don’t be surprised to find out that even a receptionist in some GOSS ministries being a foreigner and in most cases a girl. Sexual exploitation and gratification are the order of the day; it goes without saying that this is an abuse of office, which in democratic nations could lead to impeachment – for the case of a minister.

The irony lady! Madam Awut Deng Achuil, the minister of Labour and public service in the government of Southern Sudan is a good lady because her ministry makes sure that most jobs, which are supposed to be for Southerners are given to foreigners in exchange for mansions and good relationship abroad—this she does as a reward. She does a good job by not doing enough as expected of her and she gets paid for doing nothing because that’s what GOSS president likes. That’s why she was never removed or affected by several reshuffles in the past ever since she assumed this position five or six years ago. In fact it’s said that if you want to get a ministerial position, then you need to be nicer and closer to her; she will give a good recommendation to the president and you can rest assured of the success!

Let me make it abundantly clear that we are not against foreigners; they are our good friends and we need them to help us develop South Sudan, but what I am against is that they should not be given opportunities that are supposed to be for Southerners. This is irrespective of whether it’s a government’s office or in NGO world. It’s okay to hire some of them who have technical skills as consultants but not as employees or permanent workers. Besides this, they can also do their businesses – that is no problem. It’s a common trend and phenomenon that sometimes you find foreign companies are awarded contracts to do something when we have local companies who could do that kind of work perfectly well. The reason behind this is for the awarding government institution to get at least 15% of the overall contract agreed – that’s the secret behind this!

The government must address this issue and put it to rest by enforcing laws and ensure compliance by these foreign NGOs and companies, and make it clear to them that failure to do so will lead to expulsion from the country without any compromise. This is what the government of Sudan (Khartoum) does when it comes to regulating NGOs and they make sure that all the positions are for Sudanese except, may be, for a few technical posts. Can you imagine some foreign NGOs workers are working without work permits because they fear being asked about their academic certificates that qualify them to hold such positions? Most of them do not actually have papers but they bribe to get this done.

ROSS, address this and other burning issues or face popular uprising like that in the Arab world!

The author is a civil society activist living in South Sudan. He could be reached at [email protected]

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