President Salva Kiir vowed in a speech to parliament Wednesday to restore peace in South Sudan, root out corruption and improve the lives of the people during his next three years in office.
Kiir spoke to lawmakers as he began a new term as president. He was supposed to leave office Wednesday, but parliament voted in March to extend the terms of all elected officials in South Sudan to avoid an institutional vacuum as the young nation grapples with conflict, a humanitarian crisis and economic woes.
During his hour-long speech to the National Assembly, Kiir said the greatest challenge facing South Sudan is the 19-month-old conflict that has killed thousands and forced more than 2 million from their homes.
Kiir repeated his commitment to end the fighting, which he said was "characterized by unprecedented violence," and put South Sudan back on the path of development.
But he rejected several proposals put forward by regional bloc IGAD, which has been trying since January last year to broker peace for South Sudan.
"You can be sure that proposals such as the one on demilitarizing the national capital and bringing in third-party units under a U.N., African Union or IGAD mandate will not be entertained by this government. Nor shall we accept ... the surrender of the three Greater Upper Nile states (Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile) or any state in Bahr el Ghazal or Equatoria as demanded by Riek Machar's rebel movement," he said.
Government Fell Short
Kiir said in his speech that the most gratifying part of being the first president of South Sudan has been "the opportunity to lead my people to freedom and independence."
But he acknowledged that his administration has fallen short of citizens' expectations on several fronts, including the economy, which he said has gone from bad to worse in the four years since independence, and governance, which Kiir said has "exhibited weakness across the board."
Lawmakers gave Kiir a standing ovation when he said individuals who have misappropriated millions of dollars' worth of government-issued letters of credit will be held accountable for their actions.
The letters of credit were supposed to be used to import much-needed food and hard goods to South Sudan, but Kiir said "unprincipled and corrupt individuals have abused the system."
"I have ordered the ministry of finance, commerce, investment and economic planning to make effective changes and dismiss those involved in abusing the facility,” he said.
But Kiir cautioned that cracking down on corruption will not cause funds to materialize to pay for new roads, health centers and a piped water supply system. He said the conflict must end for that to happen.
"Peace is ... absolutely critical for us to build our young country, explore its natural resources for economic growth, and achieve prosperity for our deprived people. I promise the people of South Sudan that I will bring peace sooner rather than later,” he said.
Kiir said any peace agreement signed in the next three years must include reconciliation, resettling of refugees and displaced persons, and security reforms.
He promised to hold a national census — a precondition before elections can be held — and to draft a permanent constitution during his new term; to inject funds into agriculture to help fight food insecurity; and to improve health care services and education throughout South Sudan.
Kiir did not take a new oath of office, though. Parliamentary speaker Manasseh Magok Rundial said lawmakers and legal experts deemed that swearing an oath is not required when the president’s term is extended.