Strong Parliament is the Key to Preventing Hoaxes from Running the New Country

By J. Omunu

August 15, 2013 (SSNA) — On hearing the breaking news of the rejection of Mr. Telar Ring Deng’s bid to become South Sudan’s next justice minister, one prominent and respected South Sudanese intellectual whispered to my ears and said: “Whatever happens after this, for once, the NLA has redeemed its tarnished image of a rubber stamp parliament, for the record. It will give the Assembly a precedent and strength to face and handle similar situations in the future,” unquote.

Apparently, the vetting of the 20 National Ministers and 12 Deputy Ministers appointed by President Kiir last month and earlier this month has been concluded. It should be noted that in the developed democracies, vetting processes routinely ensure that Executive appointments meet the constitutional threshold, and that only the most qualified and suitable candidates take up key positions in governments.

Missing from the ongoing vetting deliberation in the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) is the issue of equity, fairness and competitiveness, a concern that is beyond the scope of this article. Lost in this debate, however, is the crucial issue of institutional weakness which is at the core of an inept NLA that cannot implement its tasks effectively and with integrity.

Looking back at the recent vetting controversy of the new Ministers by A Special Select Committee of the NLA, there is no doubt that it was a candid step towards the right direction. However, it could have been more transparent if the NLA constituted a competent vetting structure connected to and consulting closely with South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission (SSACC), other groups like The South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA), the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and the general public. In doing so, the presidential appointees to the cabinet would have been exposed to public scrutiny of their credibility and integrity through verifying credentials and requiring the individual candidate to publicly declare his or her assets, and how he or she acquired them including hidden overseas bank accounts.

While the vetting process has been commended by the public, the question of integrity surrounding Mr. Telar Ring Deng’s appointment and his failure to prove to the MPs that he had met the minimum set standards has triggered stimulating debate amongst South Sudanese across the political spectrum.  Furthermore, the majority 150 MPs have made it clear that Telar Ring Deng is unqualified and unfit for public office. After all, legislatures can do more good to transform a country’s democratic culture and build a strong institution. I would argue that a strong and forceful assembly is the key institution that can prevent a new country from cementing a One-Man rule and authoritarianism.

Certainly, the advantage of a more muscular parliament is seen by many people as the only measure to constraining the unpopular presidential decrees in South Sudan, which by the way has given any hoax out there an opportunity to sneak into the government through the back door and loot the public coffers with impunity.

It is an undeniable fact that no modern democratic society can thrive and develop economically without strong independent parliaments/assemblies and open public debates. Hence a robust and muscular legislature may balance and check the executive powers as well as block Mr. President from becoming a despotic ruler. Likewise, a weak and ineffective parliament/assembly is incapable of standing to the executive’s misappropriation of public fund, as the case is with the newly independent Republic of the South Sudan. For example, the weakness of NLA was glaringly evident when it was faced with the fact that Mr. President Kiir single-handedly authorized the $600 million “meant to acquire land meant for national security service” without the approval of the Council of Ministers or the Assembly. This means that high-handed powers enjoyed by the executive has given the office holder an insatiable appetite to authorize millions of taxpayers’ money without being held accountable by any agency or body, let alone Mr. President appointing a hoax or thugs into constitutional office without any major problem.

From the above analytical analysis, a strong national legislature is the key to transforming the new country into a vibrant democracy, and in absence of an independent judiciary or proactive civil society, NLA remains the only functioning body to check the excessive presidential powers in South Sudan if we wish to have stability and move this new country forward.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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