A Call for a Marshall plan for South Sudan (2-2)
By John A. Akec
“A pound improvement in governance leads to a tenfold increase in prosperity” – Author’s personal conviction
This is the second and final part of the article which I published recently under the same title. The central theme of the first part of the article was proposing a South Sudan Marshall Plan to be funded by US, Britain, and Norway in partnership with countries that have interest in strengthening peace and political stability in South Sudan through extending line of credit on favourable terms to the government of South Sudan and, where appropriate, providing financial assistance in areas of strategic importance to the new nation.
After publishing part one of the article, numerous comments were made on different discussion fora that ranged from encouraging, to lukewarm, to pessimistic. Prominent among these comments is the perceived institutional fragility of South Sudan, high level of official corruption, and increasing crime and insecurity in the country; all of which many of my discussants believe will put off potential lenders, investors, and donors.
While acknowledging that these are genuine concerns, I am of the view that equitable socio-economic development is an indispensable vehicle for achieving peace and political stability in any country: a satisfied citizen is a happy and peaceful citizen. I also acknowledge that institutional reforms and improvements in governance are vital if such a plan is to succeed. We will need to convince the lenders to part with their money by giving them confidence that the funds will be effectively used to achieve the intended goals.
Moreover, once funds start flowing in, success must be maintained in order to guarantee further funding.
This article outlines a number of institutional reforms and a sample of project priorities from a personal perspective without confessing to ’knowing it all’, and without being presumptuous as to think that my noises as a blogger will ever ruffle the feathers of the establishment. And notwithstanding, I want to share my thoughts on the above issues as a global citizen and local member of this society called South Sudan. To that end I want to ’do it anyway’ as Mother Teresa would advise us.
This is a challenge for which there is no quick fix, apart from continuous monitoring, evaluation, and change so that current institutions are seen fit for the purpose. For starters, there must be legislation in place to define the purpose and mandate of institutions in unambiguous terms. The legislation must define accountability hierarchy and lines of command. Right persons with right skills and experience must be chosen to lead the right institutions. There must be a yardstick for measuring institutional effectiveness and mechanism for monitoring performance. In other words, to operate the government in closed-loop mode as opposed to open-loop fashion in which we seem to fire into the dark without bothering to count the number of hits or misses.
National Legislative Assembly needs to be more effective in both its legislative and supervisory role than it currently is. There is concern that our law makers are too reluctant to raise motions on anything that will challenge or bring a member of executive wing (president, minister, governor, or commission chairs) under spotlight. This needs to change even if it means the President calling an earlier election or do something to wake everyone up in the legislative wing.
Good advisors are the eyes and the ears of a president. There should be advisors on all things that matters to a nation. Advisors do not necessarily need to be on full-time term of duty. The current range of presidential advisors is limited and needs expanding. Areas for advisors’ appointments beside political affairs, decentralization, religion, and gender should also include foreign affairs, education, health, science and technology, agriculture, trade and industry, environment, media, aviation, transport, and so on. In term of priority, advisors on economy, education, health, agriculture, and science and technology should come prominently high on the top list in addition to security and defense (already well catered for).
Establishing Institutions for Strategic Planning
Every country must have strategic goals that define where the nation wants to be in the next 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 years and beyond. What we do at present will bear fruits in the distant future. What we do not do at present can be a missed opportunity tomorrow. Hence, South Sudan can do better with a little more strategic thinking and less with groping in the dark.
For example, where South Sudan finds itself today in terms of shortage and high prices of fuel is hardly an accidental misfortune, but the ultimate prize for not thinking and acting strategically five or seven years ago. It is a living proof of the clichés: failing to plan [strategically] is planning to fail [strategically].
Institutions for strategic planning are vital for the survival and future prosperity of any country. All forward-looking nations must have institutions that specialize in scanning the horizons for risks, threats, and opportunities; then prod the governments to plan and act well ahead of time upon the findings in order to minimize risks, reduce threats, and exploit opportunities. The government of South Sudan must set up a council for strategic planning that consults and works with academic and research institutions, think-tanks, and civil society groups to conduct policy analysis and compile reports that inform government strategic policy design and long-term development plans.
That also means the government should avail funds for think-tanks, research and academic institutions, and civil society groups to build up their capacity to play their role in socio-economic development. And more important still, the government must act upon their analysis and findings.
The designated institution(s) for strategic planning should monitor how developmental projects are faring and frequently publishes reports (internal and public), meets with the legislators and executive branch of the government to discuss the status of progress of major projects and performance of the economy; thus enabling the executive branch to take informed action and corrective measures in good time. The institution(s) of strategic planning need to have specialized committees or department within it dealing with specific issues and ministries. Its membership should include heads of specialized committees in the legislative assembly.
South Sudan Economic Council
A multi-disciplinary body with secretariat hosted in the Presidency and works closely with the Council for Strategic Planning and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Academia and Civil Society to make informed decisions that affects the economy in the short and medium term.
Financial Allocation, Monitoring and Evaluation Authority
This works closely with Council for Strategic Planning, South Sudan Economic Council, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, specialized committees in the national legislative assembly, anti-corruption commission, office of auditor general, statistics commission etc. It should report and publish allocations and use of funds at least once or twice a year.
Education Sector Reforms
For start, every state should have a university, a technical and community college, a multi-skill vocational training centre, girls’ academy, and agriculture extension training institute. Higher education and general education must be brought under one roof to stop them growing apart. An independent Curriculum Development, Skills Audit, Qualification and Accreditation Authority should be established in addition to the existing Higher Education Council as policy-making body and Education Commission as education research wing. Within the Ministry of Education there should be departments for higher education, general education, early education, community and adult education, vocational education, philanthropic and private education. Government needs to improve salaries to be high enough to attract foreign academics and teachers and agree policy for employing foreign academics and teachers while retaining nationals.
Improving Transparency, Accountability, and Sustainability in Infrastructural Projects
Government should publish white papers and consult with academia, civil society, and affected communities before giving a go ahead for major infrastructural projects. Environmental impact assessment should also be part of project proposal prior to its approval, funding, and execution.
Empowerment of Women
The government should eliminate all barriers that hinder women development and effective participation in the governance. Girl’s education should be made compulsory or free or subsidized where there are fees. Legal age of marriage should be raised and girl should at least complete secondary education before being legally married. Forced marriages and traditions that oppress women must be combated through law such as girls’ circumcision and other culturally damaging practices that harm young women wherever they might be found.
While encouraging competition amongst women in employment, affirmative action should apply at all time at all institutions and levels in both public and private sector. Workplace design should be such that it is made safe and free from fear of harassment for women. Incentives must be provided to encourage women to break into male-dominated industries wherever they exist. And in everything we do, we must consider how it can be made to impact on women most positively.
Labour Laws and Regulation of Employment of Foreign Workers
Apart from employing academics, teachers, doctors and nurses, petroleum engineers, pharmacists, dentists, lab technicians, and rare technical specialisations, any other employment of foreigners should be regarded as loss to the nation that must be recouped by training nationals to take up jobs. Too much dependence on foreign consultants in sensitive positions must also be reviewed and minimized. Foreign businesses investing in South Sudan must be encouraged by special regulation to employ nationals or make plans to replace foreign employees with nationals according to time plan.
Control of Development and Humanitarian Assistance
Development aid needs to be regulated and controlled by the government through the relevant line ministries. There are at least three reasons for regulating development assistance and humanitarian assistance: to ensure relevance, efficiency, and equity.
Currently, no one can be certain that all the development aid being channelled into South Sudan is what South Sudan needs, that it is delivering acceptable results quantitatively and qualitatively, and that all parts of the South Sudan are receiving their fair share of development assistance. Left unchecked, unregulated development assistance and aid can exacerbate social and economic inequalities amongst social groups and could reinforce pre-conflict causes of war as development partners randomly pick and chose whom to assist or where to pitch their tents while other regions or social groups are left completely dry.
Involvement of South Sudan Diaspora
South Sudan Diaspora with exposure should be allowed to assist in advice and consultancy in all aspects of planning, procurement, and projects execution. This will be better than relying on ’foreign experts’ to design solutions for environments of which they scarcely have any knowledge.
South Sudan needs to make development priorities. Top on the list are the following:
Provision of Health Services
South Sudan should have at least one well equipped and well staff teaching hospital in every state capital in the next 5 years to 10 years. There must be at least one children hospital in each state. Each state hospital must have advanced medical diagnosis equipment such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance investigation (MRI) scans, among others. Moreover, South Sudan must establish hospitals specializing in treatment of heart-diseases and diagnosis and treatment of cancers. There must be plans to increase the number of doctors and nurses per 1000 of population to the levels approved by World Health Organisation (WHO) within a reasonable time scale. The government can also enact regulation allowing private sector to contribute to provision of health services.
Railway Connection to East African Coast
South Sudan needs to conduct serious feasibility studies that would lead to securing funding for construction of a railway line to east African Coast via Kenya or Djibouti. If Nile has been the backbone of Sudan and Egyptian economies, railway from South Sudan to East African coast (not the pipeline) is the lifeline and backbone of South Sudan economy. Apart from environmental benefits, railway line will create jobs for South Sudanese; reduce the cost of imports and exports, integrate South Sudan into East African Community, and can be used to transport oil. Long after oil has been exhausted, the railway will continue to serve South Sudan economy to generations eternal.
Development of Agriculture
South Sudan must come up with a well reasoned strategy to develop its huge agriculture potential. The first phase is to achieve self-sufficiency and later for export to international markets in form of value-added products. To do this, it is not going to be enough to tell small-holder farmers to “work harder” nor rushing to give them farm machinery and improved seeds and then hope for the best! It needs to be complete package that supports the entire agriculture value chain that ranges from provision of lands to soil studies, to giving improved seeds and application of safe fertilisers, to use of biotechnologies for improved yield, to provision of scientific advice and extension services, to transportation, and access to markets and export facilities. Think-tanks and research institutions can help the government develop a good agriculture development strategy.
Electrification and Water Supply Projects
Availability of cheap and affordable electricity can be a great boost to economy. And with no cheap electricity supply, no nation can realistically pursue industrialization. Thus, South Sudan needs to come up with strategies and plans for electrification of cities and country-side using a mix of hydroelectric, fossil fuel-powered, and green sources such as biomass, solar, and wind. The plan should aim to provide electricity to at least 80 percent of population in the next 10 to 15 years. Furthermore, along with electrification programmes is provision of safe drinking water for the 10 million South Sudanese population. Electrification and provision of drinking water are candidates for foreign direct investment (FDI) as well as public private partnerships (PPP).
Development of Telecommunications Industry
Availability of telecommunication services and cheap but fasts internet connectivity can reduce the cost of doing business in a country and attract foreign direct investment.
South Sudan can do well developing its ICT and telecommunication infrastructure by connecting to East Africa optical submarine cable. The country also needs to set up its own national telecommunication company.
Quality of housing is a significant factor in quality of life and life expectancy. The government should work out a strategy for provision of affordable housing to population. Again, housing is a candidate for foreign direct investment (FDI) and public private partnership (PPP). Because of poor provision of housing in the capital city Juba, huge sums from public coffers have been spent on the hotel accommodation of government officials in Juba in the last 7 years.
Support to Small Firms and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs)
“Small businesses are the very embodiment of a free society – the mechanism by which the individuals can turn his leadership and talents to the benefit of both himself and the nation. The freer the society, the more small businesses there will be. And the more small business there are, the freer and more enterprising that society is bound to be” – this was Margaret Thatcher, for Prime Minister of Great Britain speaking on importance of small businesses.
SMEs tend to be privately owned businesses that employ between 0 and 250 people. They are normally independently managed by the owner (or the entrepreneur), unlike large publicly quoted companies with more than 250 employees, and run by management boards on behalf of the owners (the shareholders). In European Union alone, small firms account for nearly 98% of 25 million registered businesses, employ 66% the work force, generating 60% of turnover (income), and contributing about 90% of all exports from the Euro Zone. Frequently, small firms struggle with cash flow problems at the start. This is because of their high-risk nature that does not encourage the banks to lend money to them before their profitability is proven.
Recognising the role that SMEs play in an economy in terms of jobs creation, corporation tax, and the export income generation (which can lead to improvement in the balance of payment), South Sudan needs to devise means and ways to support SME’s specially at startup-phase where entrepreneurs struggle with cash-flows and lack of banks’ credit.
This article is far from comprehensive and much remains to be said about the proposed Marshal Plan for South Sudan including empowerment of young people and more care about pre-school age children. Thus tremendous gaps remain to be filled through discussion and further research and analysis. A South Sudan Development Conference may be a first step to kick-start the debate. What the article does, however, is to wet our appetite and expose the kind of thinking we should be engaged in; while embarking on the next phase of our socio-economic development.
It is also worth pointing out that South Sudan is not applying for foreign aid as many are led to think, but we will be asking for loans and financial assistance to solve specific development problems that are identified by South Sudan, as opposed to donor-identified problems and donor-prescribed solutions that hardly satisfy thirst. A thousand steps begin with that first step. So let us stop arguing, get away from sloganeering, roll up our sleeves, and get stuck in. We want to figure out our path to development, peace, and prosperity and need not be told International NGOs or friendly governments what we should have or should not have.
Our development challenges are clear, and the path to peace and prosperity is plain; why not walk in it? The opportunities have never been so great, why not grab them?
Starting with ourselves let’s see who among our friends would want to be counted count in and who would prefer to be counted out.
*The writer is chairperson of Academics and Researchers Forum for Development, a think-tank registered in South Sudan. He edits blog www.JohnAkecSouthSudan.blogspot.com.