By Steven Wöndu
January 15, 2013 - A report by New Times of January 14th that the government of Central Equatoria plans to construct roads and distribute seeds and fertilizers breathed fresh air into my ears. Last year I published a complaint that the government of Central Equatoria was ‘sleeping on the job’. I singled out the neglect of the important roads linking Lasu, Yondoru, Isebi, Tore and Wuji to the trunk Juba-Kaya artery. If you add our failure on the Juba-Kajokaji road, you might understand my frustration.
I now wish to congratulate Governor Clement Wani Konga and his cabinet for the new initiative. Let this not be one of those empty statements politicians are best known for. It is a commendable objective and we are all resetting our clocks to monitor progress. Minister Paul Lodu Bureng, remind me to write on this subject in January 2014. I hope to write about my three hours drive from Juba to Kajokaji and back via Limbe.
There are other deliverables we expect from the government of Central Equatoria this year. First is the streamlining of the tax collection system. If this is not done, we will have to rely solely on National Government grants and foreign aid. The consequence of absolute dependence on others undermines decentralized governance. You lose the opportunity to influence the socio-economic dynamics of the State. If citizens do not pay taxes, their ownership of the State is compromised.
Central Equatoria State has created a Ministry of Environment. So this year we expect better management of solid waste especially in Juba and the other smaller towns. We expect a reforestation programme this year. Tree planting should be part and parcel of the administration of schools, health centers, churches, government premises and homes. Kegulu and Loka forests were created by the British Administration one hundred years ago. The successor colonialists did not expand or begin new forestry schemes. Now that we are independent and our vast land is available, we cannot justify doing nothing in this vital sector. Dr John Garang spoke to us about creating a ‘Garden of Eden’ in South Sudan. Let us honour him by inheriting his dream and create many forests.
We have a history of folding our hands while the water God sends to us from the clouds flows away. We suffer from too much water in August and from too little water in February. Is that not a clear message from God? Is it not common sense to trap the rain water for none rainy day? This is an exercise people in our villages will appreciate and embrace I think.
The State is reasonably successful in the area of basic education given our circumstances. However, we need to improve on the physical setting of the schools, especially those in Juba. School compounds must be secure and used only for educational purposes. I have shared my concerns with the Governor and will share them with the new minister Professor Dima Jibi.
Had it not been for the murder of late Jimmy Lemi and the earlier attack on the convoy of late Samson Kwaje, I would have said the State did well in terms of communal harmony. Nevertheless, it is true that there is no record in modern history of inter-communal violence in Central Equatoria (except for the strange Mundari-Bari dispute in 2007). This year and in the future, this family relationship should be elevated higher. Our language and trade are unifying forces and are already having their impact. But we are not doing as well as expected in the area of sharing skills at the county level. Teachers and medical personnel are mixing reasonably well but administrators are not. In the last Equatoria Governors’ Forum, this issue was discussed and a resolution adopted. Like so many resolutions in this country, that one has not seen the light of day. The Governors must have been overwhelmed by other matters. My prayer is that they find time and space to get back to this issue.
The emergence of highway armed robberies is a matter of grave concern. Gone are the days when one could safely walk from Juba to Kajokaji. I did that in 1987. Last week a couple were robbed of their motor cycle and then killed. This is not the Central Equatoria we knew. Ridding the State of this and other kinds of violent crime requires a more robust coordination and cooperation with national security agencies and, more importantly, with the citizens. I have heard of a village in Southern Bari that has totally rejected the establishment of a police station there. That says a lot about the reputation of the militia we have dressed in police uniform. Users of the Juba Kajokaji road say the road was crime-free until an army post was set up along it. Gunmen in uniform ambushed civilian traffic several times last year. I appeal to those in command to protect travelers.
Central Equatoria needs a strict merit based system of human resources management. Arbitrary appointments and promotions harm and undermine the integrity and development of the State. The Bank of South Sudan (BOSS) is one of our few well managed national institutions because they use independent consultants to interview and recommend the appointment of applicants. The result is a beautiful combination of the brilliant youth of South Sudan. Without applying any mechanical gender balancing formula, 36% of the staff are women. Those responsible for human resources in the government of Central Equatoria should pay BOSS a visit.
Central Equatoria officials are encouraged to travel widely this year. The destinations, this time, should be to the villages of Central Equatoria. Stay connected to our people. Hear the stories of their daily struggles. Our people are traditionally self reliant. All they need is a little support and a lot of encouragement. The decades in refugee camps have had negative effects on our social values. The work ethic was lost. I have seen young men sitting for hours under mango trees in Yei smoking. This is tragic and something has to be done about it this year.
I wish Central Equatoria and our other nine States good rains, peace and prosperity in 2013. In other words ‘God bless South Sudan’!
The author is South Sudan’s Auditor General