By: Justin Ambago Ramba
March 5, 2012 (SSNA) — The people of south Sudan have come a long way in what is in fact a difficult journey in the pursuit of national sovereignty and socioeconomic independence. Today eight months on since the new state hoisted its national flag at the UN Head Quarters in New York the actual work of settling in place like other member nations remains far from been done. Still caught up in daily battles against mankind’s traditional enemies of underdevelopment, ignorance, illiteracy and economic dependency the new country will have to tirelessly fight in all fronts if it is to realise the long held dream of providing prosperity for its citizens.
This brings us to the all important topic of how do we as South Sudanese intend to develop our new nation. At the first instant, the question in itself sounds intimidating and becomes even more so when it is shared by a wider cross section of the citizens including the top leadership itself. How does one arrive at such a conclusion? The answer is simple for you only need to look at the several haphazard attempts at wooing the so-called foreign investors and the unspeakable nationwide corruption and you will realise that the nation is in chaos. But yet it was our noble dream to witness the birth of a sovereign and independent South Sudan state. It is for this fact that we will time and time again stress the point that unless we are ready to take the lead in developing our hard won independent state, any of the countless uncalculated reach-out to foreigner investors or so-called developers will only boil down to a indirect way of relinquishing that independence.
Due to the lack of a clear vision on how to proceed with the post war construction we are now where we are- confused and chaotic. Some of our leadership were too much in hurry to turn things around assuming that they can turn the country into a modern state overnight. Riddled with gross misconceptions, miscalculations and over assumptions many became preys to the international economic predators of Europe, America and our African neighbours. This contagious fever called ‘foreign investment’ is one such deadly policy that instead of stimulating the much needed development, it has on the contrary slowed down not only local initiatives, but it has defeated even the very purposed it was intended to serve.Whole communities instead of engaging in what they know best, be it subsistence agriculture , brick laying , carpentry , iron mongering or petty trading, many sought to achieve the all difficult frog leap. Thousands and thousands of acres of fertile virgin land have been sold to the so-called foreign investors who up to now haven’t taken any steps to start any of the projects for which they acquired the land. Who will now question them and using which law?
Judging by the examples on the ground, the businesses that so far have attracted foreigners are those with quick money turnover. Restaurants, hotels, brothels and transportation have taken the lead. Conspicuously is the mushrooming foreign banks from neighbouring Kenya which have flourished where national ones went bankrupt. Petty traders from the neighbouring countries are also criss-crossing South Sudan where they engage in businesses of all sorts. Interesting though is the fact that while these talks of foreigners flooding into the country to make money from whatever they can lay their hands on, our fellow South Sudanese are very keen on empting their country’s public coffers which they use to acquiring houses and mansions in Kenya, Uganda , Australia, Europe, Canada and America. Whatever the reasons are said to lie behind these strange behaviours, much money has left South Sudan through the hands of its top leadership, or their associates than it has come into the country as remittances by its citizens.
Now that the dust has settled down and hopefully wider cross sections of our citizens are now able to see for themselves where the country was allowed to drift off the rail over the past seven years as a result of irresponsible economic policies. It is now time that the people of South Sudan appreciate the one solid fact and that it is only they who will for sure develop their villages, towns and cities. This myth of the so-called ‘foreign investment’ was all but a sweet bunch of lies meant to hypnotise the people while the corrupt politicians and their cronies siphon as much of the Oil money outside the country.
Won’t you agree with me that it is all about self confidence and the trust that we can have in ourselves? This is what we actively need to promote in ourselves. It is true that Rome wasn’t built in one day, however unless we are actively engaged in positive developmental schemes, construction projects or agricultural ventures [even at the most modest scale], there is every possibility that the wait for some alien creatures to come from the outer space and turn our villages into neon-lit towns or cities will all come to past as mere fantasies. Although it’s unwise to embark on projects that are beyond ones managerial expertise, yet your contribution to the national scheme can start with the most basic of projects.
On the positive note as well we have a good section of our population who have now relocated from the north and a great many more are to follow. These are people well vested with wider ranges of vocational know-how and a lot more indispensable experiences in the various fields. They don’t have to cram up in Juba simply because it is the capital city, while opportunities await them in other parts of the country. Very soon it won’t be any longer about finding a paid job with the government given the fact that 98% of the revenues have gone with the Oil shutdown. In other words to have a steady income one should rather seek to establish a private business than cling to a white-collar job and get tied to a fixed monthly salary.
It is understandable that as I write many young people have been lured into government jobs based on the previous state of affairs, however it won’t be too long before they start experiencing the effects of the new economic dispensation. The fact that the government has announced that it intends to keep people’s jobs and salaries unaffected despite the declared austerity measures, these are to their best face value reassurances, however the devil remains in the details. baseless as the claims remains the actual figure that employees receive as salaries may not change much, however since the country lacks the economy to sustain the value of the South Sudan pound [SSP}, it won’t be too long before SSP joins the league of valueless currencies. At that point many people will be forced out of government jobs if they are to earn a living.
The importance of being a tax-payer: In settings where citizens are misled to look up to the government as a goodwill charity, economies have often preformed very badly or collapse all together. This is true of states that heavily depend on revenues from the exploitation of natural resource. More often than not as the prices of gold, diamond or Crude Oil tend to remain high; these governments intentional choose not to collect taxes as they can efficiently run the establishment without having to do so. In return the state imposes and exploits the wrong image that it [state] and not the people who own the country’s natural resources. Now since no citizen is requested to pay taxes, but on the contrary is likely to receive state bonuses in return for being a loyalist of the ruling party, the very spirit of bringing such a
government or any of its officials to account on cases of corruption surely disappears. Accountability if any will now becomes one-way traffic as exemplified by corrupt politicians barking about taking independent newspaper to court for exposing grafts and embezzlements. Unsurprisingly you will see that most citizens are willing to comply for fear of loosing the much needed state bonus that comes with ‘blind loyalty’.
But where citizens pay taxes they are vividly seen stuck to their rights and duties. They organise rallies to demand for services, stage demonstrations and take corrupt politicians to court. Of course without the least doubt the way ahead of South Sudan following the shutdown of Oil is to collect taxes and any evaders from top to bottom will have to be dealt with according to the law. Nonetheless in many instances things don’t actually operate without hiccoughs and we will have to remain vigilant all the time, lest we be taken for yet another ride.
An issue to focus on in the coming few days is the infamous and tricky topic of Tax Exemption. This is an issue that must be taken back to the parliament and re-examined for the current reality is full of loop holes and insensible policies. Many foreign firms have secured for themselves decades of Tax Exemption in the name of ‘attracting investment’, while they operate businesses that make turnovers of millions of dollars every month. Which ‘attraction of investment’ is this when people make huge sums of money and don’t have to pay their shares for all the services that they enjoy in the host country………. security, roads etc …..These are irresponsible policies and must be reversed, otherwise how do you expect a poor citizen who survives on subsistence farming to pay his/her taxes while a multibillion cooperate doesn’t.
These challenges will no doubt come to pass, but they are not supposed to put off the people from doing what is right and that is to engage in productive economic activities. This is the country we fought for and now it’s time that we develop it. If for any reason we think that it’s the leadership which is preventing our people from realising their full potential, then these leaders will have to go. The people’s will always prevail and while leaders will come and leaders will go, the country must be seen thriving.