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Citizens criticize gov’t for “killing” national issues using committees

Authors: Okot Emmanuel | Woja Emmanuel | Daniel Danis | Published: Saturday, June 27, 2020

South Sudan Presidency: President Salva Kiir [center] First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar [2nd left] and Vice Presidents, Dr. James Wani [2nd right] Rebecca Nyandeng [Right] and Taban Deng [Left] Courtesy

South Sudanese have criticized the Presidency for perpetually forming committees “just to kill” matters of national significance that requires long-term solutions for the country.

They stated that “every time there is a problem, the President forms a committee” of senior government officials who do not deliver on their assignments.

Some believe the Presidency is delegating sole responsibilities to subordinates. They cited issues of communal clashes and corruption as matters which requires the direct intervention of the highest office in the land rather than “toothless” committees.

Their complaints follow news that the President has formed another committee to resolve the ongoing conflict in Jonglei and Greater Pibor Administrative Area.

Between 2016 – 2020, President Salva Kiir has constituted close to 10 committees to address issues of insecurity, peace, civil service arrears, and corruption. Most have not delivered in the interest of the public.

As much as the constitution says the President shall preserve the security of South Sudan and protect its territorial integrity, it also gives him the power to “appoint ad hoc commissions and committees” to respond to matters of a national character.

But those who spoke to Eye Radio argued that most of the committees established by the President to investigate or resolve pertinent issues in the country have not succeeded.

Some say the issues of conflicts, corruption and injustices that were to be addressed by committees established by Kiir have persisted since 2005.

This week, President Salva Kiir tasked Vice President Dr. James Wani Igga to conduct meetings with elders from Jonglei and Pibor to contain the ongoing clashes.

There are reports of violent clashes continuing in the Pibor area following attacks by armed youth from greater Jonglei.

Fighting in Akobo County and Jalle Payam of Jonglei, Gumuruk County of Pibor Administrative Area have resulted in the death of civilians.

The committee is directed to identify the root causes of inter-communal violence and organize a peace conference between communities in the areas affected.

According to Kiir, the committee shall bring on board all stakeholders in a bid to ensure lasting peace and stability between the two areas.

But common distrust exists on the ability of this and other previous committees to deliver on their tasks.

“You know anything a committee is constituted for is already dead,” said John Manyang [not real name] in Aweil town.

He queries the role of the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of National Security Service and the Police in matters of insecurity.

Shirikaat incident investigation committee

This is because early this month, President Salva Kiir formed a 7-member committee to thoroughly gather facts regarding fighting that led to the killing of civilians and a soldier in Shirikaat residential area in Juba.

The new body was to quickly identify suspects and present them before a court and report back to the President within 7 days.

It is now over 20 days and the outcome of the investigation is not known.

Those who spoke from across the country expressed doubts over the ability of any committee to resolve longstanding conflicts in the country.

“If you can remember the committee to investigate the scandal of Juba-Rumbek road that involved [former Minister] Mayiik Ayiik, and the one to investigate the Sherikat incident, plus now you are forming another committee, this means this investigation is dead at birth,” Viviana [not real name] from Wau lamented.

Some retraced the failures of previous committees instituted to investigate violence in Greater Jonglei, Cattle-related violence and grand corruption in the country.

December 2013 killings in Juba

In February 2013, the government said it set up 3 committees to investigate reported cases of targeted killings in Juba since the violence began in mid-December 2013.

One investigation unit was led by former Chief Justice John Wuol, and also an investigation team in the army, as well as in the police “in order to investigate these cases of targeted killings, and they will be brought to book.”

The results have not been made public.

Committee to address communal violence in Jonglei, Buma

In 2017, President Kiir formed a similar committee headed by the then First Vice President, Taban Deng to investigate conflicts and killings of civilians around Jonglei, Terekeka and then-Buma state.

This is after several incidents of roadside attacks, cattle raids, and child abductions were reported.

The work of the committee that comprised of the then Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior, Minister of National Security, Minister of Information and the Deputy Minister of Public Service and Labor among others never yielded results.

“Anything with a committee in this country has no result, even this one of Jonglei will have no results. How different is this committee for Jonglei with others?” asked Pitia Samson in Juba.

Committee to facilitate the movement of cattle back to their respective states.

In 2018, a military committee that was to facilitate the removal of cattle from the Greater Equatoria region to their states failed to complete its work.

There are still cattle destroying crops and herders occupying farming lands in Equatoria.

Those who spoke said assigning Presidential responsibilities to committees only waters down the significance of tenacious issues such as longstanding communal fights in Jonglei, Pibor, Warrap, Unity and Lakes states.

Recurring patterns of violence have continued to claim lives in the restive states.

“We are tired of committees, many committees were formed in the country but they haven’t produced any result. The government should focus on collecting guns from the hands of civilians,” Elizabeth Par intimated.

A UN report revealed that 65 people have been subjected to sexual violence during the first quarter of 2020.

Jonglei State and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area have suffered years of food insecurity and were severely hit by flooding in 2019.

Committee to review civil servant’s salaries

On separate matters, several cabinet-level committees were formed to review the salaries of civil servants following the rise of prices of basic goods in the market.

The review was to include salaries and grievances of the judges, medical workers, teachers, organized forces and other law enforcement agencies.

Up-to now, civil servants continue to receive low pay despite years of devaluation and economic stress as a result of violence.

Oil Pre-sale committee

In June last year, President Kiir formed a committee to investigate the mechanism used in the pre-sale of South Sudan’s oil over the past few months.

The team was tasked with the thorough investigation of the pre-sale process, payments, taxes and details of oil companies involved in the oil production and sales.

It was to report back to the President within 14 working days.

But a year has now passed and no information regarding their findings has been made public.

“They have been forming communities to go and investigate different issues in various part of the country but the problem is they don’t produce results, this is the problem,” Uche Josephat noted.

The economic crisis management committee

In 2017, the Council of Ministers formed a committee chaired by Taban Deng Gai to respond to the economic crisis in the country.

It was to develop a control mechanism for any imported food due to concerns raised by citizens over the high prices of goods in the market.

But food items have continued to skyrocket in the markets across the country.

National Dialogue Committee

The National Dialogue Committee is also another body that was formed by the President to address the underlying problems facing the country and to reconcile the population.

The body that has tied its conventions to the formation of the revitalized government is yet to complete its work.

According to the Executive Director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, the committees that are meant to hold perpetrators of crimes accountable are not even accountable to their appointing officer, the President.

“There is a need to push these committees and to hold these committees accountable so that they have to deliver as a committee for the realization of peace and stability,” said Edmund Yakani.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner recently called for swift investigations into reports of violence that continue to kill, wound and displace people in South Sudan.

It underlined the importance of ending the circle of retaliatory violence by holding those responsible to account and promoting peace-building between individual communities

Mr. Yakani submits that the absence of accountability and failure to assert the supremacy of the rule of law is why the government fails to deliver on its mandate.

“I’m a bit disturbed about this issue of committees,” he stressed.

Disturbing nature of violence

A statement by the UN reveals that the nature of the intercommunal conflicts has been evolving in recent years, taking on an increasingly militarized character with military-style tactics and military-grade weapons.

It emphasised that for peace in South Sudan to be durable, the government must act promptly.

The transitional constitution of South Sudan demands that the government address the particular needs of the people by dedicating public resources to improving their lives by providing, among others, security and maintaining peace in every part of the country.

In South Sudan, there exist the National Security Council which is comprised of the President, as chairman, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of National Security and affiliate intelligence heads, the Minister of Interior and affiliate heads such as the Inspector General of Police.

Its role is to define the national security strategy based on the analysis of all threats to the security of South Sudan

“We want to urge the Office of the President to be serious about issues regarding the security of civilians,” Thon Mawut in Bor concluded.

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