References to Southern Sudan: Are they Due to Menu Cost or Our sloppiness?

By James Alic Garang

September 6, 2011 (Juba) — I do not know whether you have noticed an atypical prevalence in the Republic of South Sudan: everywhere you look in Juba, there are labels reminding us of our past.   When will public references to Southern Sudan cease to exist and the new signposts, signboards, stickers, markers, billboards or what have you, spring up to replace “Southern Sudan” labels?

I do not know what is preventing some public and private institutions from changing the labels carrying the words “Southern Sudan” to “South Sudan.” Needless to say, Southern Sudan was a region within old Sudan while South Sudan is a new republic, independent and fulfilled, period. We are the later; not the former!

If you come or happen to live in Juba, you will not be surprised to find labels referring to South Sudan as Southern Sudan. Such displays equating the Country with the Region are eyesore, at least for me. Take for example, the following institutions whose signposts are pompously up on public places such as roadsides, ministerial buildings or government fences:

1. Government of Southern Sudan, Ministry of Social Development, Central Equatoria State, Juba;

2. Government of Southern Sudan, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Juba;

3. Bank of Southern Sudan (BoSS) Banking Training Center, Juba.

This state of affairs is not unique to Juba or public institutions; private sector is not exempted. Well, to give one more example, go to Yei and you will find past labels in parade:

1. The acronym “BOSS” which is fully spelt out “Bank of Southern Sudan” is on the signpost at the bank premise; the signpost at the head office in Juba carries the official name or new sticker “Bank of South Sudan.”

2. The same is true for Hillspring, a bottled water company whose label reads “Yei- Southern Sudan.”

I am not claiming to provide the answers for our failure to bring down old labels. Nonetheless, one hypothesis that comes to my mind is a menu cost theory of sticky pricing. The other is a political negligence or what I term our political leadership and organizational sloppiness.

First, I take it that for private sector institutions, one reason for not changing signposts could be due to menu costs.

What the heck is a menu cost? According to a New Keynesian Economist, Gregory Mankiw, there is a cost to price adjustment called ‘menu cost.’ In other words, changing prices or printing new price tags has a cost and unless the marginal revenue resulting from the changed price exceeds the marginal cost, firms do not instantaneously adjust price, leading to price stickiness (Take it on face value from me that this sticky price model is in sharp contrast with neoclassical economics which assumes market clearing price).

To be precise, this piece is not about micro-foundation of sticky price model but rather it is an attempt to get answers as to why the labels or signposts depicting South Sudan as a region are still up on notice boards, billboards, key pads in some hotels, guest information, resort gates or some government properties.

Second, someone might say that we are almost two months into independence and it will take time to change all old labels. But my question is: how much time do we need to bring down all references to Southern Sudan in public places?

Another person might argue that there is a cost to public in tearing down those old labels, therefore citing the menu cost argument. However, one counterargument is that such costs are negligible compared to public extravaganza or rent-seeking behaviors rampant in South Sudan today. Even if there is a cost associated with changing public labels, the cost is small and it is a price to pay for the national pride.   If our public servants especially head of institutions care and take pride in our sovereignty, we should have removed old labels by now and proudly displayed the ‘Republic of South Sudan” signposts everywhere.

While some of our leaders or institutions concerned have not bothered to check the consistence of the signboards or posters against the nation official name, others have put up new signposts and are to be applauded.   Examples abound and they include Republic of South Sudan National Employees Justice Chamber; Republic of South Sudan ,Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation; Republic of South Sudan, Ministry of Justice; Republic of South Sudan, Ministry of Energy and Ministry, etc.

In closing, references to Southern Sudan are still in full view across South Sudan. You can make a case that the cost of changing the labels might be high and thus, the private firms are reluctant to change labels until the benefits outweigh costs. But on the part of Republic of South Sudan public institutions, the excuse is indefensible. Our national pride should trump economic cost. We therefore expect all our institutions at the state and national level, to tear down old labels and put up new ones. Is that too much to ask for? I suppose not.

The author is reachable at [email protected].

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