The Government of South Sudan: A Poor Man Living Like a Rich Fool?
After spending six days in Juba recently; having walked on foot across many parts of it; and having seen what I saw- the answer to my above question, sadly, is affirmative. It is worth mentioning, however, that I was impressed by and pleased with maintenance of Juba main hospital. It was like a bright spot and breath of fresh air in an otherwise disappointing progress in Juba reconstruction effort.
Economic theorists assume that human beings make rational decisions when spending money or making priorities about what to buy and in what quantities. Otherwise, it would be hard for pundits to predict what an economic policy would entail for a nation. Quite often, we would have to content that real life is full of exceptions that refuse to follow or correlate with linear and smooth curve predictions.
Yet surely, he who can afford a 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser can afford a wastebasket and a broom. And when making priorities, the question to be asked has to be which is more essential for a healthy-want-to-be city like Juba: a wastebasket and a broom or a Toyota Land Cruiser? Of course the answer will have to be wastebasket. But, it would appear the government of Southern Sudan went for a land cruiser on the expense of other burning, and extremely un-measurably vital areas of service provision.
I will outline four areas where the government of South Sudan should have done better within its resources: provision of clean water, sanitation and waste management, provision of affordable housing, and road maintenance within Juba.
Provision of Clean Water
Little has changed since January 1989. Then I was a young teaching assistant at Juba University. I lived in University accommodation very close to the campus. Everyday, tankers went to the river and brought water, which was distributed to staff untreated. Often we left a barrel or two outside which were filled. We boiled our drinking water and allowed it to cool before drinking it. Still many of my colleagues including myself had problems with water borne abdominal illnesses. Our priority was to stay a live and safe in a besieged city.
In my recent visit, tankers still distribute water that is pumped directly from the river (I went there and witnessed it with my eyes). The only difference, however, is the wide availability of imported bottled water that costs one Sudanese Genia/pound a bottle at the time when an average salary of a teaching assistant is something like SDG 600 and worker receives a salary in the region of SDG 200, making it unaffordable for most.
An investment in water treatment plant would reduce illnesses from water borne diseases as well as save money in medical treatment for most Jubans and their visitors. In fact, according to a WHO research, clean water provision leads to 80 percent reduction in many diseases. And yet, water treatment plant costs much less than a brewery. All that is needed, in case of Juba, are pumps, boilers, water treatment additives (mainly chlorine), fuel, and small testing and quality control laboratory (to make sure that water is bacteria-free and that the levels of chlorine are within internationally, or W.H.O. [World Health Organisation] recommended levels).
Running costs can be recouped by levelling small charges on water distributers who should sell the water to citizens at acceptably and affordably low rates (This is just one of many ways of meeting running costs. I am not suggesting it is the only way). Please note, I have mentioned nothing about running water, which I believe could take time and cost more money. This could be a long-term plan. I am just talking about medium and short term.
Sanitation and Waste Management
Admittedly, good sanitation system demands careful planning and more resources. Yet, provision of pit latrines as temporal short to medium term solution, and banning surface latrines for good should be within capability of our government. This has not happened. As a consequence, the author would leave for anyone to imagine what is actually happening when these essential services are lacking. To put it mildly, a major contributor to pollution of environment and drinking water contamination in Juba town is human waste. The other major polluter is uncollected waste resulting from consumer and household waste such as plastic carrier bags, waste paper, old clothes, and plastic bottles (from bottled water and fizzy). I just could not believe my eyes to see waste being burned in the open where it is thrown: in the markets, by the roadside, and in residential areas. I am lost for words to describe the ugliness of it which has has succeeded to mask out the hilly and beautiful Juba landscape where the mountains of rubbish on the roadside capture the sight of the passer-by more than attraction of three majsetic hills towering over Juba silently. These are: Jebel Lado, Kujor, and Rajaf.
The question is: is it lack of resources? Is it lack of manpower? Is it shortage of land for disposing waste? Can GOSS not afford enough waste collection and disposal vehicles where Land Cruisers and double-cabin Toyota pickups out number the stars in the sky? I have not found a single excuse for failure by our government to regularly collect waste and keep the town neat and clean. As things stand, Juba is a poisoned city in our watch.
I visited Juba Custom Market and talked to some of traders and retailers there. These traders and retailers complain of heavy taxes levied on their goods. Yet, there is no visible sign that an essential service such as collection of rubbish is being adequately or effectively provided, if any.
Provision of Affordable Housing
It would be laughable if I were talking about affordable housing for every citizen of Juba. That would be asking too much of our government. According to a speech by my president [Kiir Mayardit] in public address I attended once in the UK: "London was not built overnight nor was it built by one generation." I entirely agree. A universal affordable housing may be the job of a ‘future’ government, not necessarily next generation.
However, what about affordable accommodation for mid rank GOSS officials? A significant number of them have been living in expensive hotel accommodation (averaging US $ 120 a night) for more than two years. Small wonder, new prefab hotels are springing up in Juba at alarming rate. This, in the main, is because it is a lucrative business for hotel owners, with GOSS being the prime customer. As I walked or drove around Juba and seeing the sheer number of hotels, the question I have been struggling with is why the government has not diverted some of monies paid out in hotel to build its on prefab homes for its senior and mid-rank officials? It could then recoup the money by charging reasonable rent. In contrast, money spent in private hotel is money lost forever. This situation is not about to change anytime soon. It is putting our money into bottomless pit.
Controversy abound about some of unconventional road maintenance practices adopted by GOSS Ministry of Transport for which Mama Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior has been blamed such as filing potholes in the roads with cement and gravel which does not last long, and instead becomes itself a great hazard for motorists. This happened despite presence of a good number of qualified civil engineers in the ministry of transport. Tarmac is universally accepted because it is scientifically proven to expand or contract according to temperature and wear off gracefully after serving its purpose at least for reasonably a long time. The wide criticism received by Mama Nyandeng might have cost her the ministerial job. However, I doubt whether much has changed. The main roads that connect West and East of Juba such as Juba (proper) and Atalabara is closed due to ongoing maintenance. The road that connects ministries and Atalabaram is also closed as well due to road work.
Motorists (lots of them) have no choice but to divert through residential back streets which are in worst shape than the main road. Moreover, all useful roads are being maintained merely by covering them with red soil/mud, which turns quickly into powdery dust and is washed away by the rain very quickly leaving potholes wide open. This has made it extremely unpleasant to walk by main road because of dust storm stirred up by the traffic passing. Combined the dust with smoke from burning waste by street side, and you would wonder if you are in a city in the aftermath of a volcano or some nasty natural calamity.
As any good engineer would tell you, any maintenance work that is likely to cause disruption such as roadwork has to be completed as quick as possible. That means adequate preparations before the work could commence, as well as working long hours extending late into the night, and continuing over the weekends. Paradoxically, work on Juba roads stops at 5 pm, and there is no work over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). This kind of approach to road maintenance defies any logic. This is not an incurable situation. Adoption of sound contact practices such as agreement on tight but realistic time schedules that must be adhered to by all involved in the work and giving contracts to companies with right competencies and good track record. Furthermore,there is no need to spread the effort thinly all over the place and cause so much chaos without achieving anything anywhere.
Let me remind all of us that I have great regard for men and women who fought for our freedom. Everyone one of them. I value their sacrifices that are too numerous to count. I was free to roam Juba as much as I like without fear of arrest. Mass executions and mass graves are things of the past. But it pains me more than anything I know to see our government which is the fruit of this struggle failing to come to grip with the task of development. Real freedom should mean non other than theh provision of above services.
Stop wasteful use of our resources in privileges and unsustainable life styles. It is time to care and put the money where the real needs are.
Finally I could not help writing down these words:
O Honourable Minister,
Dismount your Land Cruiser
Lower or get rid of your darkened windscreens
See what the people of Kony-Konyo
And Custom Market endure
A land buried in waste
And (please) never to drive away in haste
Leave your hotels
Come to Malakia Atalabara
To drink the water we drink
Or breathe with us the dust and fumes-filled air
Caused by your Land Cruisers
And your funny roads
Will you take a leave from your "heaven"?
And come to Hai Neema, Malakal, Buluk, Gabarona, and Muniki?
See where I live
Surrounded by faeces?
Would you come, dear Minister?
Would you remove the blinding-scale from your eyes?
And see the carnage caused by misuse of our resources?
In hope to make some changes
In your next spending plan?
So that we can afford a wastebasket or two
To keep clean and tidy
Our capital city
A beautiful place left to rot
O Honourable Minister
Would you dismount your Land Cruiser?
And have a taste of reality?
Experience a change of heart?
John A. Akec