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July 16, 2012

South Sudan President Plans to Shrink Government

by Charlton Doki

There is growing support for President Salva Kiir’s plan to downsize his government. Kiir said earlier this month that due to the current austerity measures, he needs to eliminate positions that will save money and provide more social services.

The president acknowledged in his one year anniversary speech on July 9 that his government is larger than that of many other governments in the region. After the shutdown in oil production in January, which accounted for 98 percent of South Sudan’s revenue, Kirr said the government had to make dramatic cuts.

South Sudan has 59 ministers and deputy ministers at the national level alone.  And there are 21 commissions whose chairpersons have similar entitlements.

Civil society activists and opposition politicians are urging President Kiir to move quickly on implementing the cuts. Jimmy Wongo, a  senior member of the opposition United Sudanese African Party,  says the move is long overdue.

“Not only should the president cut down the number of ministries but even consider [downsizing] his big parliament, which has 332 members. This is too big for a new country like ours.”

Wongo says people should be hired on the basis of their competence and merit.

“There are people in civil service today holding the [upper] echelons of the administration in South Sudan that do not deserve to be there. But perhaps because of their role during the war they found themselves sitting there,” he said.

Edmond Yakani, a program coordinator for the local NGO, Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, says it is not just administration jobs that must be slashed. He says the number of “constitutional post-holders” should be cut in half.

"If we can lose at least over 50  percent of the current constitutional post-holders as a principle of downsizing I would say congratulations to the president," he said.

Lorna Merekaje of the South Sudan Democratic Elections and Monitoring Program says she’ll believe it when she sees it.

“Is it going to happen, and when? I believe if it takes place as soon as this month then we will all believe that we have government that is working,” she said.

Yakani says some communities will perceive the removal of their members from government positions as a deliberate attempt to marginalize them.

“I think a public office is not for a tribe, a public service is not for a community, a public office is for qualified citizens. So regardless of where we come from, as long as we are qualified, we can deliver services to the people,” said Yakani.

The Sudan Tribune website reports a top government minister was authorized to overhaul the government structure and provide recommendations to the president last month.

President Kiir is to discuss those recommendations with his Cabinet before presenting them to parliament. It’s unclear when that will happen.

Listen to reporter Charlton Doki on South Sudan downsizing