Decentralization: a ‘best option for ROSS’ but lacking practicality

Quote: “If South Sudan is to be a federal state, its constitution should not only say so, its citizens should treat the constitution as a sacred document that delegates to and limits the powers of any institutions”(By Professor Lokuji, U.o Juba)

By Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan

May 17, 2011 (SSNA) — It was last week on Tuesday, the 10th May 2011, when I participated in a public lecture on decentralisation organised by GOSS Directorate of decentralisation and intergovernmental relation, the University of Juba as well as the civil society organisations. Probably I should have written this article long before, that is sooner after the one I wrote and sent on Wednesday last week but I wanted to give my readers time to digest that article before I could write this one again. Certainly and realistically though, one needs to give the readership ample time or space to read, reflect and make any sound and rational conclusions about the topic in question in order to make sense out of it. It’s also good to note that we don’t just write for the sake of writing. There is a reason and urge that prompts people to write!

The public lecture that I participated in was as fascinating as anything one could think of as it drew different opinions and different schools of thought on board. The debates or questions that were generated by the topic on ‘decentralisation’ were interesting and lovely. I followed the whole debate with keen interest; including the counter-statements by the lieutenants from the King’s camp as they tried in vain to justify their tight grip on power for unspecified period of time. What ensued after the presentations (first by Professor Lokuji from the University of Juba and secondly by Hon. Dr. Richard K. Mulla) was acrimonious exchanges of words from a certain Chief of staff (not sure if of armed forces or not) in the office of the President. It goes without saying that what these two academicians and equally high profile figures presented was something ONLY the often sick or thick-minded individuals could dispute——but obviously it does make sense since it touched some wrong nerves at the wrong time!

I must thank Professor Lokuji and Hon. Richard K. Mulla for having stood tall to tell the truth about ‘centralisation’ of powers as opposed to decentralisation – which is enshrined in the trash-throwing-ICSS, 2005 and the incoming DTCRSS. I find their presentations both educative and informative; and equally thought-provoking as it challenged people to think far beyond party lines. The chief of staff in the office of the president complained fold handed that the paper presented by the Professor was not balanced – no way, it couldn’t be biased or unbalanced just because it unearthed truths about the intentions of the government talking about decentralisation yet doing the opposite. It exposed sheer naivety and arrogance of the highest order of this gentleman – the so called “chief of staff” from the president’s office. I was happy that the professor responded to his subjective rude comment in a more solemn and smart way that put him and his likes to shame, if they did feel any shame at all!

‘Decentralisation’ is good because it’s what the people of South Sudan want, and have always been yearning to get, as a best form of governance. But the way in which it’s expressed leaves a lot to be desired. In nutshell, it’s lacking practicality and political will to implement it, to be sincere. Decentralisation is simply defined as transferring some of the powers and responsibilities from the central government closer to the people at the lower level for better governance. That is, powers are divided between different levels of government down to the rural communities. It’s commonly believed that decentralisation is closely linked to democracy as it helps empower the people to not only have a say on their own affairs but also how they would like to be governed and by whom. This way they feel a sense of dignity and sense of self-worth.

A few countries in the world (America as a model) are said to be fairing on well with decentralisation. In South Sudan, decentralisation could be a “best constitutional option” as the theme of that public lecture read that day but it’s wanting in nature. But should it just be written in the constitution or implemented? Some feel threatened, that by implementing decentralisation because they fear they could lose their positions. Others also say it does not promote national unity and cohesion needed in the new republic – but is it true? I don’t think so. These guys are wasting tax-payer’s money by visiting some countries in Africa and beyond on good governance and democracy etc but not putting into practice what they have learned there.

To me, putting it in the constitution is different and implementing it is a different thing altogether. It looks good in the constitution but it needs implementation if it’s to bear any substantial fruits. But what do the two constitutions, ICSS 2005, and DTCSS say about decentralisation? Article 50, chapter 3 in the interim constitution of Southern Sudan, 2005, talked about decentralisation all through to article 51 in the same chapter; which is about devolution of powers – affirmation of the need of norms and standards of governance. Has this been the case during the interim period? You can answer this question for yourself. Article 47 in the DTCSS talks about decentralisation, all through to article 48, which talks about devolution of powers and establishing norms and standards of governance in the new republic of South Sudan (ROSS). Is this going to be the case now in ROSS? I don’t think so. First of all, the president has been given absolute powers to appoint and sack even a commissioner without consulting the community, something which runs contrary to the agreed or mentioned principles of decentralisation/devolution of powers. And second of all, who would want to be deceived by such hallow propaganda since Kiir and his lieutenants always act outside or hubris on the law? The whole thing is a contradiction, because you cannot talk of decentralisation while you are in fact, doing the opposite: concentrating powers in the centre – this is very unfortunate!

We could just remove the word ‘de’ and go with “centralisation” since it’s what is practical instead of preaching water yet drinking alcohol. This is no difference with military government – in fact why not go for military government instead of all these headaches? The way John Luk and his committee gave powers to the President; don’t be surprised if Kiir orders the shooting of civilians in South Sudan without anyone asking why. Honestly speaking, he has more powers than even parliament; he can declare state of emergency and war without consulting with parliament. He can also remove an elected governor during this transitional period and appoint another as he likes, and at anytime. This is craziness! Where on earth can an elected public office holder be removed through presidential decree or powers? Who gave all these powers to the President in the first place? This is lawlessness at play!!

In recap, decentralisation is a good option for ROSS, and would actually cure some of its ills but its lacking practicality. We need to be a bit serious if we are to seriously implement what is in the constitution on decentralisation – otherwise we are making fools of ourselves. We want our people to have a voice in choosing their representatives, not dictating or imposing unwanted leaders on them. The mistakes of the last six years of CPA should not be repeated under the pretext and on the pretence of implementing decentralisation. We either go for military/dictatorship government or implement decentralisation honestly without pretence. The advantages of decentralisation outweigh that of centralisation, therefore, let’s do away with the later.

Aluta continua and viva struggle for democracy to prevail in ROSS!!!

The author lives in South Sudan and could be reached for comments at [email protected]

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