By Lam Akol
August 13, 2013 - The work of the current Select Committee to vet the recently appointed Ministers and Deputy Ministers of the Government of South Sudan has raised a lot of interest and spirited debate. However, one feels the debate is not focussed enough. One reason for the confusion is that the work of the committee is shrouded with lack of transparency as to its mission. This is why some contributors seem to be mistaking the woods for the forest.
To begin with, as the official opposition and as a citizen, one feels proud that the National Legislative Assembly which has imprinted in the minds of the South Sudanese the image of a rubber stamp has at long last taken on the gauntlet and is ready to exercise its function as a watch dog on the work of the Executive. Among these powers is the one to vet and approve appointments as required by the constitution. This is commendable, and I do not think that anybody in his right mind will quarrel with that.
However, the atmosphere surrounding this “new awakening” and the impression that the Committee was selective in its vetting have contributed to the doubts being raised about its impartiality. Hence, several points need to be straightened out so that the Select Committee could really be taken for what it should be: an impartial, objective and transparent body.
The first point to note is that the terms of reference of the Committee are not clearly spelt out. This should have been the first thing to be worked out before commencement of its work, and these TORs should be available to those to be vetted if not to the entire public. Judging by the article written by a member of the committee, Mr Joseph Ngere Paciko, they appear to be confusing the constitutional basis of the committee (constitutional and Conduct of Business provisions) for the terms of reference. The terms of reference must spell out what are the requirements the Committee is looking for in each and every candidate, not arbitrarily but on the basis of constitutional and legal provisions. Is it looking for academic qualifications, expertise, integrity, experience, or what? This aspect seems to be lacking. A case in point is requiring a Deputy Minister to produce her academic qualifications when nothing of the sort is required by the constitution. What is the basis of the committee’s insistence on that?
Second, are all the appointees to appear before the Select Committee and be subjected to the same “grilling”? If not, what are the criteria for exempting some? The statement given by the member of the Select Committee mentioned above in this regard is quite worrying. Quote:
“The Select Committee vetted and approved the rest of the appointees because nobody raised concern or brought any allegation against them, otherwise, some of them would face what befell the two.” Unquote.
This is an admission that the “rest of the appointees” were approved without question “because nobody raised concern or brought any allegation against them”. This is astonishing. Even if we were to accept this argument, were the public invited to raise concern or bring allegations against the appointees? If so, when and how?
What appears to be distantly related to the terms of reference, as came in the statement of the same member of the Select Committee, is a misunderstanding of what the role of the Minister is supposed to be. Says he:
“…each appointee [to]convince the committee members about their credentials and their anticipated policies which they hope to implement once they take up their new positions.” Unquote.
Where on earth is a Minister expected to formulate his/her own policies to implement as he/she likes. Least of all to expect that role from a nominated Minister who has not yet assumed office. Policies are formulated by the Executive, i.e., the Presidency and the Council of Ministers and then approved by the Parliament. Then and only then will each ministry have specific policies and programmes to implement as part of the general policy of the Government. Such confusion did not help the Select Committee and raises doubts on its competence.
Third, what is the mechanism of adopting decisions in the committee? This should be part of the TORs but needs to be highlighted on its own. Should the decisions be taken by unanimity, consensus or simple majority? In other words are all the members of the committee agreed on the vetting still going on? If not, how many are for that?
Fourth, are members of the Committee competent to carry out the required task. What are the qualifications of, say, the Chairperson of the Committee? Can she really follow the sophisticated reasoning being used in the debate around the vetting? I leave these questions to the Speaker and the MPs to answer. The role of the Chairperson is crucial as he/she directs and controls the debate.
Fifth, why didn’t the Select Committee include members of the official Opposition? For a committee of eleven members, how come there is not a single member of the Opposition? This says volumes about whether the Assembly is really at a “turning point” or we are just being treated to an aberration and it will soon be business as usual. A body that brings people under scrutiny must be an open book.
Dr. Lam Akol is the leader of the opposition SPLM Democratic Change