July 23, 2012 (BENTIU) - The governor of South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State, Taban Deng Gai, is under pressure from members of the Adok ethnic group to sack the Commissioner of Leer County, after citizens and rival politicians held a demonstration on Monday accusing him not cooperating with local people.
- Speaker of the Unity State Legislative Assembly, Simon Maguek Gai, in Bentiu, South Sudan, 24 July 2012 (ST)
More than 100 people are estimated to have participated in the peaceful protest outside the governor’s office in the state capital Bentui. This is fourth time that citizens from Leer County have demanded Commissioner Stephen Taker Riak’s removal but the first time they have done so in a public demonstration.
To the surprise of the protestors Governor Gai came out of his office to address them and explain why Taker was appointed as Leer Commissioner.
The Governor denied he was responsible, claiming that Taker was appointed on the recommendation of the Speaker of the Unity State Legislative Assembly, Simon Maguek Gai.
The participants in the demonstration said they backed the governor but disagreed with his choice of Commissioner, adding that Taker was appointed because he was an ally of the governor not because he was the best choice for Leer.
Taker supported Gai in 2010 elections and was appointed commissioner when Gai won as the candidate of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), albeit in controversial circumstances. Angelina Teny, the wife of South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar, claimed she won the election fighting as an independent.
The protestors handed the governor a petition signed by 47 intellectuals and students asking that he be removed. Leer County’s population is around 70,000.
Speaker denies responsibility
However, the speaker of Unity State Legislative Assembly, Simon Maguek
Gai, denied these allegations in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.
"I’m not the governor to appoint the commissioner", he said, adding that if Commissioner Taker had made mistakes the Governor was accountable.
As Speaker, Maguek said, his responsibility was "just overseeing the performance of [the] legislature" in Unity State in accordance with South Sudan’s governance structure.
Maguek denied he was keeping Taker in his position emphasising that his fate lay solely with the governor.
“I think the governor has actually told to the youths that did a peaceful demonstration that they should remain calms until their demand is made”, the speaker said.
The former Commissioner of Leer County, Franco Duoth Diu, is accused by some members of the community of instigating the protests at against Taker so he can return to the position.
Diu was sacked in mid 2009 because he supported Angelina Teny’s bid to be the SPLM’s official candidate for the governorship of Unity State. However, he denied he was acting for personal gain in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Monday.
"Whether a woman or a man we have no objection, but what we want to tell Governor we don’t want the current Commissioner", Diu said.
Diu, the current chairperson of the SPLM in Leer County, said that commissioner’s current problems were of his own making as he was not cooperating with the local population or Leer intellectuals. He said that the Bentui government had his complete backing.
“We are united as the people of Leer county that we don’t want the commissioner because of his misbehavior of making division among the people of Leer but now we are united under one umbrella including our most educated intellectuals”, Diu added.
In the petition to the governor on Monday Leer intellectuals complained that, unlike local MPs and the Governor, Commissioners are not elected but appointed by the governor. They asked that the Commissioners be appointed in a more democratic way.
Diu also accused the commissioner of trying to remove him from his position as the SPLM’s county chairman - an act which Diu said was unconstitutional under SPLM’s rules.
Since 2010, Diu said that he and others in the area had blamed the governor for Taker’s appointment but he said that after the governors speech it was clear that he had been forced to appoint Taker by the Speaker of Unity State’s parliament.
There had been too much political maneuvering involved in Taker’s appointment, Diu said.
"The speaker was backing the commissioner because the seat he holds in the assembly was for Stephen Taker Riak, and this is an indication of appreciation to push Riak into position of commissioner through his recommendation to governor", said Diu.
Before the election, the Governor said, Taker and Maguek agreed that they would not contest the same constituency seat and in return Maguek would support Taker’s bid to become a County Commissioner after the election.
When Maguek won his seat and became Speaker in 2010 he kept his promise and persuaded the governor to appoint Taker.
Governor Gai explained this to the demonstrators outside his office, who accepted the reasons of Taker’s appointment but urged the Governor to remove him.
The politicians and students who campaigned against Taker say they will now try and persuade the Speaker to withdraw his support.
Diu also said that Taker was not well educated enough to be a commissioner or run commercial activities in the county. Diu has a diploma, while Commissioner Taker has only completed the eight year of primary school.
Many officials in South Sudan have low qualifications as a result of the country’s poor education system, a product of decades of underinvestment, neglect, and conflict. Over 70% of South Sudanese are unable to read and write.