"We have not used any formal word in the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) to describe the type of governance we have negotiated and agreed on. Perhaps we were guided by African sign not to name a child before it is born. Now that the child has been born researchers can give the name…” Dr. John Garang de Mabior, 12 March 2005, Brussels, Belgium.
By Beny Gideon Mabor
September 1, 2013 - This policy brief underlined the wavering agenda of a suitable system of governance to be adopted in South Sudan under the ongoing permanent constitutional making process. The second aspect is to examine experimental results seen so far during the interim and transitional period of the government in South Sudan with so-called decentralized system of governance particularly on the question of legitimacy and performance of the government at all levels.
Article 1 (4) of the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011 says ‘South Sudan is governed on the basis of a decentralized democratic system and is an all-embracing homeland for its people. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial entity where such diversities peacefully co-exist. In other words, this provision serves to accommodate ethnic diversity of the people of South Sudan in its entirety. It is manifestation of course that the national identity of every country is always the notion upon which politics and governance of a particular state is based in the constitutional arrangement although no single nation in the world that had suppress its ethnic values, norms and traditions and forge a unique cohesive national identity.
With decentralized form of governance in place, there exist different levels of government with some restricted executive, legislative and judicial competences controlled at the centre for policy promulgation, division and directed to lower levels for action. This is known as political decentralization by way of principal-agent relationship where central government acting as principal and the local levels acting as agent. However, the degree of political decentralization procedurally is always accompanied by devolution of powers to the lower institutions in order to meet either formal or substantive component of decentralization defending on which model chosen in the legal framework.
In South Sudan, there is an available question whether the so-called decentralize system of governance has served good purpose in term of service delivery and development programmes in a post-conflict state. This has been answered by recent public opinion polls collected countrywide by International Republic Institute IRI from 24 April to 22 May, 2013 respectively which shown that 52% of the population disapprove performance of the government and said the country is heading to a wrong direction compared to 42 % of the same in 2011. Therefore, the failure of SPLM-led government to chart a clear direction of decentralization led almost everything on assumption and the country is run on presumable decisions which formed the basis of governance and not constitutional order.
Besides, a major challenge lies with underlying idea about the continued political decentralization in addressing the strategic objectives of decentralization in general. The second question which is not properly addressed by the political leadership and the SPLM-led government in particular since 2005 is what situation that warrants a legal framework to rule by decentralization without prejudice to the vision of taking town to people and not otherwise.
When the SPLM former leader John Garang coined this vision, he was meaning the presence of administrative units in each locality in a federal state. In fact, there is no decentralization as standalone system of governance. Decentralization can occur at either unitary or federal system. It is all about relinquishing some powers to the lower levels for action subject to observation by central government as explained earlier.
The fact remains to know what are advantages and disadvantages of decentralized governance for the benefits of the government and people of South Sudan. In search for best option of system of governance, the SPLM former leader late Dr. John Garang, acknowledged in the above mentioned statement on the occasion of third conference on federalism in Brussels, Belgium four months before his death in a helicopter crash. I believe time has come now for researchers to choose which system of governance is best for South Sudan since the name of the child is already registered in the family of nations.
Undoubtedly, the statement of the former President confirmed that a decision to choose decentralization and impose it as independent system of governance was not a prepared choice but by default. It is not well investigated whether South Sudan is such a nature that is categorized to be governed on the basis of decentralization. At the material time, the relevant stakeholders should take up from here and properly investigate South Sudan setting first before concluding and make another legal and political mistake to choose system of governance without impact assessment. Nevertheless, researchers are welcome to provide their policy opinion on system of governance to help pave the way for suitable option and inclusion in the country’s permanent constitution.
This present mist of politics and governance sponsored by political decentralization is cemented by a politically oriented legal framework by approving a lot of executive powers to the President on the expenses of other important concurrent powers in a decentralize form of governance. Indeed I agree with the position of my senior colleague Dr. Luka Biong Deng of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government when he argued in favor of federalism as viable option for governance in such a diverse nationalities in South Sudan.
Cases in point are powers of the President under Article (101) of the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011 to remove an elected State Governor or dissolve State Legislative Assembly. The application of such powers under a federal state does not meet the doctrine of separation of powers in constitutional governance.
At the time in question, South Sudan is on the process to forge a permanent constitution, for its institutional framework and other related matters. Yet, questions remain unclear about what system of governance to be adopted in South Sudan. The author have had honor sometimes back to be hosted by UN sponsored radio Miraya to discuss possible scenarios on system of governance. The said discussion, however today generates this policy brief to present some policy options.
In view of this complicated political situation, the simple answer to correct all messes is only adoption of a federal state with multiparty democracy. In a federal state, there are functions of each level of government without interference from another level, except three exclusive competences left at the centre namely national defense and security, national economy and foreign policy. Otherwise, all levels of government had its own three pillars of government independently. With federalism in place, I believe there will be direct provision of services to the people at lower level. There will too be clear system of checks and balances, transparency and accountability in the management of public funds.
The federalism will silently eliminate tribalism as basis for joining the government shall not based on tribal identity as the case may be, in South Sudan, but on professional and political ideology context. The current decentralize form of governance which was intended to accommodate diversity in governance is extremely misplaced and abuse as the country is ending up almost creating unstable government due to compulsory ethnic representations on the expense of professional competences.
Last but not least, federalism will eliminate corruption because the opposition political parties will not keep quite but speak out on corrupt practices of the ruling party in order to win people’s confidence and position of power during general elections. South Sudan will never develop political cadres in the current system or other form of governance except through federalism. Otherwise, if the situation is allow to continue, the young state will end up preparing tribal leaders.
The author is a Human Rights Activist and work at South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA). Prior to joining SSHURSA, the author has worked for South Sudan Ministry for Justice, and a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org