By John Manut Awan Chan, Juba
15th March, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — For the last eight years the government of South Sudan has been negotiating with various donors and government to obtain loans for its development projects. Some of these projects have been described as mega projects which regional participation is necessary. For example the new oil pipeline to the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu and railway that will cut across three countries before reaching South Sudan. However, most of these projects if truly implemented would change not only the social economic landscape of south Sudan, but also the political environment.
Though there was not much public awareness of these projects, observers of South Sudan development progress have been keeping track of all the political utterance about these pending development projects. Before the country sunk back into the armed conflict that is now consuming resources and human lives alike, these projects were generating high hope among the citizens who were able to hear about it. Recently a flurry of activities associated with these projects has re-emerged with office of the President as active advocates of these projects. While other potential donors to development projects have taken low profile, the Chinese government backed loan seems to be open for constant discussion. The Middle Eastern based capital ventures funds are also engaging South Sudan through multiple middlemen for cut throat interest rates.
The new Minister of finance Hon. David Deng Athorbei already made three trips to Middles East in less than two months since his appointment. While the Chief of Administrator in the office of the President Mr. Mayen Wol Jong has made total of 15 trips to China and some countries in Middle East. It’s fair to conclude that the urgency for foreign loans is no longer driven by the development projects as it was originally conceived. The current economic situation in the country could have added to the double efforts to obtained loans from anywhere irrespective of its cost and consequences. As minister of finance, Hon. Athorbei has all the legal rights to engage in the economic development and survival of South Sudan. Any deals in entered into with foreign government is and will be considered as sovereign obligation that will be taken over by any future government of south Sudan. But there are many other deals being negotiated by people who have no constitutional rights to represent the sovereignty of south Sudan.
The Office of the President and its Chief Administrator are setting up parallel system of loans with foreign companies that could have great financial implications to the people of South Sudan for years to come. Without legal guidelines, Mr. Mayen Wol the senior officer in the office of the President has been concluding financial deals behind the minister of finance Hon. Aggrey Tisa Sabuni and now Hon. David Deng Athorbei). Mr. Mayen Wol has been seriously engaged in the loans acquisition activities that one would not be mistaken to think of Mr. Mayen Wol as the real minister of finance and the constitutionally obligated minister as mere ceremonial. The question here is who is really making the loan decision? Is parliament involved? Is the president aware of the role played by his chief of Staff? What is the job description of Mr. Mayen Wol? The following narratives are some of the examples of the confusion in the development projects priorities.
One of the projects commissioned recently is the road construction to Bahr el Ghazal via Terekeka and Rumbek to be financed by the Chinese EXIM Bank. The news of the road construction was greeted with excitement and great expectation for the benefits it would bring to nearly five states of South Sudan. After the opening ceremony the work on the road suddenly stopped. No one from the government or the loan seekers in the office of the president have bothered to brief the public of the reasons why this great and overdue project came to standstill?
Of late the Mr. Mayen Wol and his group recently bulldozed the ministry of telecommunication and postal services to prioritize the implementation of Optic Fiber cable development which would connect South Sudan with East African states. The project is to be implemented by Chinese telecommunication Giant HUAWEI. The deal was proceeded by signing of MOU between Kenya and South Sudan to extend their Optic Fiber Cable to South Sudan via Kenyan border town of Lokichokio to Nadapal in South Sudan. The deal was signed by the Hon. Minister of Telecommunication and postal services in Nairobi. Another concept of fiber optic fever is the connectivity through Uganda via Nimule to Juba, this phase of the project is expected to be shorter compared to the connectivity through Eastern Equatoria state. The cost of the projects is exclusively known by Mr. Mayen Wol and not even the minister of telecommunication has an idea or guidelines for the cost of 1km of Fiber optic burying process. The author is not to discuss the technicalities of these projects but remains on the priorities set by the government or Mr. Mayen Wol as the architect of these loans.
If the government really was in control of its various policies and priorities, would the laying of fibre optic cable be above the road construction to Bor or Rumbek. Many times we have heard the same politicians complaining of the lack of road as contributing factor to the increasing insecurity in many parts of the country. Now when citizen in Pibor or Nzara hear of the fibre optic, what would they make of it? And when they hear of the money our government borrowed through Mr. Mayen Wol the chief Administrator in the office of our God fearing President, what would they make of it? Who is fooling who here?
The ministry of telecommunications has one of the most competent Ministers for the first time and the author believe if she was given the chance and truly allocated resources, she can deliver. has other ignored priorities by the office of the President. For example the minister has been waiting for the return of the file on the International Gate Way tender that was conducted by the then Legal Advisor in the office of the President. Until now the country has no International Gateway for its communications with outside world. The current situation is that every mobile telecommunications operator and ISP has its own gateway ungoverned or regulated by anyone. As much as the high speed internet maybe necessary for commerce in South Sudan, it is still at the bottom of the electronic commerce priorities when compared to other infrastructure in the ICT sector. The ministry of telecommunication has been waiting for three years to operationalize the Telecommunication regulatory body and has not received any money to start its activities. It was until Mr. Mayen Wol push for fibre optic project that the office of the President started to rent an office for the Director General of the National Communication Authority (NCA). The body still has no employees and engineers required to monitor and enforce the telecommunication policies.
Where is the priority in the development projects promoted by the government? The country is at war, children have no medicine or shelter and thousands are still IDP in the capital of our own country? We are one month away from the next rain season which will effectively cut off the seat of government from the rest of the country. But we have decided to push for the fibre optic projects which will be officiated most probably by our own President sometimes this week. Before breaking the ground for laying of the fibre optic cable or Broadband as they may call it later in the week, will the president remember to mention the status of all the other projects for which he officiated but never took off? For example the Oil Refinery in Thiangrial in Upper Nile, the Juba-Rumbek road construction and many others. Or is our president a tool of Mr. Mayen Wol game of fund raising?
Under the current economic situation aggravated by the decline in global oil prices, the government of South Sudan would be expected to improve on its collection of none oil revenue in order to sustain its operation. The ministry of telecommunications and postal services should have been one of the leading institutions that generate revenue for the government. This is not happening, simply because the necessary institutions and technologies for collecting tax in the telecommunication sector are not in place. Lack of the telecommunicate Gateway is one glaring example. If there were coordinated government policies, the Ministry of Telecommunications and postal services should have been granted loans to purchase the machine. Now it is understandable that we shall have suffer high speed internet but no infrastructure to make use of it once it reach Juba. The public deserve to know the priorities of development projects. The parliamentary select committee on economic should tell the public whether these loans negotiated by Mr. Mayen Wol are authorized and overseen by them?
The writer is student computer science at the University of Juba and the views expressed here are solely of the author and do not represent the university. The writer can be reached on Manutchan2012@gmail.com