BY: Garang Atem Ayiik, JUBA, MAY/31/2014, SSN;
On 22 May 2014, I was on ‘Wake Up Juba’, a radio program that discusses current issues in South Sudan. On this day, the topic for discussion was what does ‘taking towns to the people’ means? a concept popularized by Dr. John Garang, the late SPLM leader.
Taking towns to the people and water agriculture with oil money, demonstrated Dr. Garang intention for a strong decentralized economic and governance system for delivery of ‘peace dividends’ in terms of services.
On 5 June 2005, on the occasion of signing Nairobi declaration on launching final phase of peace in the Sudan in Nairobi, Dr. Garang De Mabior, said, ‘it is SPLM intention to devolve power to the maximum so that decisions shall be taken at the lowest possible level of governance’.
Taking towns to the people can be viewed in the context that people needs’ shall be met at their rural locality. Immediately after signing Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, SPLM formed strong decentralized states’ based governments with each of the 10 states headed by ‘who was who’ during the liberalization struggle.
During the interim period, and after independent, much of government revenues are spent in Juba.
The ‘who was who’ in the first SPLM governors flocked back to Juba for jobs in accordance with the same wisdom fish follow water when river dries.
On 15th December 2014, power struggle between His Excellency President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar pulled the country into chaos. Now the nation is grabbing every twig or calling every help to remain above water.
The aims of this article are to examine economic reality of taking towns to the people – how it can be done in terms of perquisite policy conditions; and proposes policy positions on reality of ‘taking towns to the people’ beyond rhetoric.
2. Taking towns to the people in reality
It is easy to hear people and mostly politicians talking about taking towns to the people. This article argues that taking towns to the people is an ingredient of three key deliverables from the central government, and citizens to the decentralized units of governments:
a) resources – money and human capital;
b) minimum services delivery from the centre ; and
c) constitutional mandate and governance. Figure 1 shows author’s diagrammatic illustration concept for taking towns to the people concept.
Figure 1: Author’s diagrammatic representation of taking towns to the people
2.1 Resources – Financial and human capital
The concept of ‘taking towns to the people’ can be understood well if answers are provided to why people move to towns. There is huge literature on rural-urban migration which is beyond the scope of this article.
However, the main reasons why people move towns are primarily for employments, and services. Therefore, taking towns to the people is to provide employment and other vital services at the grass-roots.
The first condition to be met in taking towns to the people is to decentralize resources to states and counties. The resources include both financial and human capital resources. As it is today, huge government budget is spent in Juba according.
However, huge population resides outside Juba and continued centralization of resources in Juba, attracts to Juba the educated, and uneducated. This becomes critical given high dependency and socialistic life of South Sudanese.
With the current low resources-envelop going to the states, counties, and other lower decentralized units, it is difficult to find at the counties and in other lower units graduates with a bachelor’s degrees unless a county commissioner.
At the states’ ministries, the graduates are exceptionally few. With low resources in term of human and finances flowing to the states, counties and other lower units, who and with what are services provided to decentralized units of government?
It is critical too to note that service is not an abstract, it is a reality, planned and delivered. To hold people in their village and create towns for them mean buying and delivering sustainable services to them.
This means providing education, health, water, security, house, electricity and jobs at their rural homes. In our case, with over huge resources spent in Juba, taking towns to the people becomes an empty rhetoric. Policy correctness is to take huge resources to decentralized units of government.
The questions remain how do you provide services at the grass root without right employees and no financial resources to buy services and/or ingredients of services?
Aware that resources are spent in Juba and to some extent at the states, citizens act rationally by moving closer to services/resources in towns leaving taking towns to the people as policy contradiction or historical statements.
As citizens migrated towards the resources and services, employment and deployment opportunities in centres are based on patronage, nepotism, and tribalism which have strengthen tribal commitment and loyalty. The crisis of December 2013 points to this hypothesis.
2.2 Minimum services from the central government
Even within the premises of a decentralized system of governance, there are services that are keys to success of the decentralized administration. Author believes these services can be provided by decentralized units of government but the complexity, financial demand and unwilling of the private sector to invest in these services, make it difficult for smaller units of government to deliver these services. However, delivery of these services is crucial for creation of towns in villages.
Services like security, road, electricity, water, and sewage require mega financial muscle or/and mobilization that is above the capacity of states and counties governments. Without these services, taking towns to rural areas is near impossible for the states and counties governments.
After signing of CPA, we have witnessed growth of private schools, health facilities and farms. However, none of what author’s call ‘minimum services’ can be sufficiently provided by private entities in current set-up of South Sudan.
It is author’s belief that initiations of these should be started by central government because of its capacity and ability; and maintenance and linkages of these services should be left to lower units of government.
Without these minimum services, flow of cash and human capital to rural areas is not sustainable and hence ‘taking towns to the people’ without these minimum services is not sustainable. December 2013 crisis almost uprooted all government agencies and people in greater Upper Nile. This points to how central security is to towns’ creation and sustainability.
Though other services like education, health and farming are important, private sector and lower units of governments easily fill up these roles in an environment where human capacity and financial resources are decentralized.
This view is not intended to undermine importance of these services but only to show preferential roles of different levels of government.
2.3 Good governance and constitutionalism
Another pre-condition for taking towns to the people is institutionalization of government procedures where citizens are central to national decisions-making, transparency in employment and revenue management processes.
Adequate resources taken to states and counties must be managed in transparent, with auditable procedures and adequate oversights.
States and counties must be given adequate resources with capacity and ability to make decisions. These decisions involve deciding leadership in open and transparent process; held leaders accountable through oversight mechanism; strong parliament and other bodies like procurement authorities, anti-corruption agencies, audit chambers, and other ad hoc vetting mechanism.
The peripheries must decide who to lead and where; where to spend resources with little interference from the centers. These mechanisms will eliminate patronage, nepotism and tribalism as jobs will be given according to qualifications and competencies.
The constitution must not leave issues of appointment, deployment, employment, elections and other decisions without check and balance. Experience has shown relying on robust systems is better than relying on individuals good will.
3. Conclusions and recommendations
As evidenced in the above analysis, taking towns to the people and other decentralized governance must be planned. As South Sudan struggles to bridge differences created by December 2013 crisis with possibilities of transitional government, the following are key conclusions and recommendations that might be useful in forming an interim government and fulfilling pledge of taking towns to the people:
• Adequate resources must be decentralized to states, counties and other lower units of governments. A government that will address needs of the people must take resources where the people are. As Dr. Garang asked in his 5 June 2004, just to paraphrase, why would South Sudanese fight for twenty years just to transfer resources to few elites in Juba?
• Create accountable systems of government between agencies including percentage resources to transfer to the states and counties. This should be supported by strong and independent oversight from the center to the lower levels of governments;
• The government at the center must and should support provisions of minimum services at the lower levels of government as basis to build solid foundation for decentralization. Security, and infrastructure must not wait;
• There should be transparency in employment, deployment and promotion to reduce tribalism, patronage and nepotism that has strengthened tribal loyal. This will reduce the collective incentives for tribal efforts to work together for power but encourage individual performance as basis for career growth and personal prosperity.
Garang Atem Ayiik is an independent South Sudan economic policy commentator who lives in South Sudan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org