Presidential decrees vis-à-vis legislative powers: The case of South Sudan

By Magok Alier Akuot

August 16, 2013 (SSNA) — Since gaining independence in July 9, 2011, South Sudan has faced enormous challenges in its efforts to forge a democratic system of governance after a two-decade long civil war. For instance, leading executive and legislative figures within the ruling party (SPLM) have put forth opposing views in defining a political direction which the government should follow in serving the nation. This political drama reached its climax especially when President Kiir issued a decree relieving an elected governor of Lakes State, Eng. Chol Tong Mayay. The citizens were taken by awe when the Vice President publically criticised the president and declared his intention to challenge him for party leadership. The repressive politics within the presidency only got impertinent and a common man had every reason to dance according to the set tune.

Yet one has to be careful enough because of the wistful nature of this political drama whose slogan is “if you step on my toes I will as well step on yours”. Therefore, Governor Taban Deng Gai of Unity State became a victim of this drama and whether his sacking was as a result of this saga remains untold. And like I said earlier, caution is required especially when politics take centre stage. This is needful irrespective of affiliation or closeness to the Mr. President.  The efficacy of this point was pivotal in the sacking of prominent key executive figures namely Ministers of Finance, Kosti Manibe; and of Cabinet Affairs, Deng Alor Kuol; SPLM Secretary General (SG), Pagan Amum; and Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar respectively. These acts of the president are a clear indication that he is untouchable and immune to criticisms.

But haven’t we entrusted our legislators both nationally and at state levels with responsibility to serve our interest but not the President’s? Whether they have fulfilled their mandate over the course of their deliberations is subject to opposing views which is not categorically the purpose of this article. But one thing is clear and that is the ambiguous nature of President Kiir’s decrees. In a democratic state, decrees are minimally heard of since there is a legal framework which acts as a benchmark for executive as well as legislative actions.

The Transitional Constitution is promulgated in a manner that gives unjustified powers to the president, and I am not about to challenge this legal fact. My point, and which is the purpose of this article, is the legitimacy of presidential decrees. For instance, the power to relieve an elected governor is only a presidential power if there is threat to public security or in case of a state crisis. In a normal working system, the Parliament is supposed to pass a vote of no-confidence in the Governor, or approve any decree issued by the president, but in our South Sudanese context, the president seems to be a godfather, and in this respect his decree is final and/or binding on members of the National Legislative Assembly. 

The recent actions by the president are clear indications that he is moving this nation towards a direction of uncertainty. In particular, he has no powers under the Constitution to singlehandedly relieve the Vice President without any approval by the National Legislative Assembly. The Constitution provides that the Vice President may be relieved of his duty with approval by two-thirds majority of members of National Parliament, but was this procedure followed during the removal of the Vice president? Definitely not, and this is a clear violation of the Constitution which the president pledged to protect. The fact that the Vice president opposed the president in the way he is handling affairs of this nation does not necessarily mean he is working for the latter’s downfall.

To a common man, this presents itself as a viable opportunity for seeing through the lenses of democracy and without engrossing oneself into ethnic or tribal politics. For instance, a Dinka must not support the president’s action by virtue of tribal affiliation. I am a Dinka and do not agree with the President because of non-objectivity of his actions, and not because Dr. Riek is in anyway related to me or giving me any benefits. The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech as well as the right to contest for elections without discrimination based on political positions. These rights hold for everyone including the Vice president. I see no point why he should not freely express his dissatisfaction and why the president is not using this as a valuable opportunity for correcting himself if he sees valid reasons for doing so. I suppose that is how democracy works-to serve the common good but not personal interest!

Our president has forgotten something which the people of South Sudan took up arms for-to live in a politically secure environment where everyone is free to express his or her opinions without fear of political harassment; and to have their opinions and/or views taken into account directly or indirectly. It is very unfortunate that he is acting in total violation of the rule of law which he pledged to enforce. As a leader, your actions are subject to criticisms both internally and externally. President Kiir needs to remember the words of Former American President, Woodrow Wilson, who posited: “the ear of a leader must ring with the voices of the people”.  The people of South Sudan are peace-loving and needs to live in a stable political climate. They look up to him and their representatives with eyes yearning for democratic transition-one that guarantees the enjoyment of civil liberties and/or freedoms. For two-decades they fought to stand shoulder high with the rest of citizens across the globe. Their expectations of ‘free at last’ are waning out with countless presidential decrees tailored towards political secularism.

Nevertheless, one sees glimpses of hope in the National Legislative Assembly especially with recent vetting process of the National Cabinet Ministers. Although, the process is not free from malice according to those affected, yet Hon. Abuk papiti, as a chairperson of the Vetting Committee for National Cabinet Ministers, has written a legacy that will live on for ages. For the first time, our representatives have proved that at least they are and indeed possess the mandatory power to say no when the president says yes.  They made one of the most informed decisions in refusing the approval of Telar Ring as Justice Minister. This highlights the unmasking feature of democracy vis-à-vis rule of law.

As we hope for a better democratic rule in the Republic of South Sudan, the president needs and should be objective in exercising his constitutional powers in issuing his decrees; otherwise the political tolerance vindicates the necessity to look farther in reclaiming the lost vision of our struggle. And this nation remains in ruins if presidential decrees continue to gird civil liberties enshrined in the Transitional Constitution, 2011. But aren’t we second-class Citizens yet? 

Magok Alier Akuot is a Law Graduate from Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology, Bor; Jonglei State. He can be reached at: [email protected]. The views expressed herein are solely his and do not reflect those of the University.

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