Saturday, February 02, 2008

Wanted more "Changsonisation" of GOSS

"Catch them doing good", or "positive correction", which are references to a behaviour modification philosophy that is popular with secondary school teachers for motivating students to adopt more positive behaviour and attitude. Forget secondary schools, these are simply microcosm of real world. The same applies to politicians. Catch them doing good and give them credit, and you are likely to get more good.

Gabriel Changson, currently the Minister for Information in the autonomous Government of South Sudan (GOSS), symbolises transparency in the real sense of the word. During a short stint as the acting Finance Minister of GOSS, Gabriel Changson, made the public aware for the first time of challenges facing the Finance Ministry and possible cures to the big hole in GOSS public expenditure. It was not particularly pleasing news for public to learn that more than half of Southern government oil revenue goes towards payment of salaries; that in order to be able to fund developmental projects, the Southern government might be obliged to reduce employment in the public sector and borrow from third parties; and that more than half a billion dollar of Southern money was expended by his predecessor without consulting the Southern Legislative Assembly. Nevertheless, it was invaluable to tell the public of what was actually happening with the government finances, regardless of whether it was good or bad.

Most recently, while paying a private visit to Cairo, Mr. Changson disclosed to the media the details of various initiatives and plans being undertaken by his ministry in order to increase public access to sources of news and media information in Southern Sudan. These initiatives and plans included an agreement with the Egyptian Ministry of Information that makes it possible for Juba Television to broadcast via Egyptian satellite (Nilesat) in approximately eight weeks time, with technical backup from South Africa to launch the initiative; an agreement to train South Sudanese media personnels in Egypt; plans to establish GOSS news agency with branches in major Southern cities; the plans to set up publishing houses for newspapers and magazines; and government subsidies to publishers to keep down the prizes of newspapers and magazines.

To inform the public about what is going on in their government so that it can understand why things happen the way they do is at the very heart of the advocated "good governance and transparency" paradigm, regarded as a gateway to prosperity for the developing world. It is worth pointing out that it would be naiveté of me to conclude that talking to the media alone will be sufficient to achieve transparency and good governance, nor am I advocating that our ministers sell us white elephants. It is simply a step towards transparency. This is because acomplete blackout about what is going on in a government does not certainly bring us any closer to the goal of good and transparent governance.

It should be noted that the main feature characterising news about Southern Sudan in the years following the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement is dearth of information on on-going GOSS initiatives and developmental projects in the newspapers pages and media headlines. This has been happening either because many GOSS ministers have been too shy to speak to the media about their achievements and their on going initiatives or future plans; or the media has failed to capture positive progress, or simply many had nothing worthy to report. Either way, the current Information Minister has shown us that it is an important strategy to building public trust in the government by keeping the public informed about government current initiatives and future plans.

Hence, more and more GOSS ministers and officials are encouraged to follow the example of Mr Gabriel Changson. That is, to keep the public informed, at all times, even if it means sustaining their hopes for a brighter future.

Let us call this process "Changsonisation" of GOSS.

John A. Akec


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