Thursday, October 02, 2008

The County Road Rage: Governors Muddle in Business

"They do not defend the rights of the poor……the priests rule by their own authority…"
Jeremiah 6:28 & 6:30.

By John A. Akec

Throughout the two decades of its struggle, SPLM party sold a bright future to the people of Southern Sudan and Sudan in general. Some of the slogans the party has been raising included rooting out all forms of marginalization and inequality in the Sudanese society, protection of the rights of all, good governance, freedom of speech, religious freedom, democracy, and much more. One favourite speech attributed to the SPLM founder, thinker, and Chairman, Dr John Garang De Mabior, used to be: "Oppression has no colour."

Oppression as we know it can take many forms: political, economic, social, cultural, ethnic, military, and so on. Anyone one of these can be as painful as the other. By saying that oppression has no colour, the SPLM chairman in his countless speeches wanted to teach the Sudanese people including South Sudanese that it does not matter who (friend or foe), or what skin colour (white, black, yellow, or brown) your oppressor takes. Anyone and he literally meant anyone who takes away somebody’s or community rights unjustly, or try to marginalize them is an oppressor.

Dr. Peter Nyuot Kok, a law professor and a former Minister of High Education and Scientific Research in the Sudan government of National Unity on SPLM ticket further amplified this point by once saying in a civil society workshop in Kenya that: "Even your [own] father can be your oppressor."

To date, and since the SPLM took over running the affairs of Southern Sudan in July 2005, all those slogans have fallen on the wayside. Instead of putting these truly revolutionary slogans into practice in the running of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and in states governments, the picture that has been emerging to the lay observer is that of a party that has ditched its script book (party principles, ideology, and advocated policies), and decided to go it alone. The result has been that the party is committing the very deadly sins that were responsible for creating the old Sudan. The very Sudan that SPLM took arms against.

When those who rule in the name of the party are no longer guided by party’s ideology, then we have a picture which Jeremiah saw in Israel long time ago when he expressed the Lord’s anger against Israel’s rulers: "They [the rulers] do not defend the rights of the poor……the priests rule by their own authority [not by word of the Lord in the Torah]."

The parallel with current SPLM government will be self-evident considering a case of bad governance and marginalization in the troubled Warap stateand Western Bhar El Ghazal state, in relation to award of road contracts and all the malpractices that accompanied it.

Thurjok/Awrad, AYAD/Africa Congdai, and Uneven-Handed Governors
Early this year a Company called Thurjok was awarded a contract by the former governor of Warap State to construct a road linking the capital of Gogrial East County, Lietnhom, to Wau in February 2008. Gogrial East is one of most deprived areas of whole of Warap State and does not have all-weather road of any sort. From June to October, the road linking the area to Wau is not drivable. Thurjok International was established in 2005 with shareholders mostly from Gogrial East County. It participated in transportation of displaced people in the North to Warap State. It bought and distributed for free more than 12,000 sacks of sorghum to meet seasonal food shortages in Warap State between 2005 and 2006. The State government promised to reimburse the costs. Yet the company so has not been fully reimbursed to this day.

What’s more, before the company could start the execution of the road project, the new governor of Warap State, Mr. Tor Deng, decided to cancel the contract won by Thurjok, and is in the process of awarding it to AYAD/Africa Congdai, consortium, two other new Southern Sudan based companies. The reason given by governor Tor Deng is that Thurjok has no financial resource to undertake such project. According to my investigation, this has no basis. Like AYAD and Africa Congdai, Thurjok has subcontracted to another Northern-based company called Awrad for Roads and Bridges.

The company favoured by governor Tor, AYAD, was previously awarded contracts to execute a number of road projects in Aweil in Northern Bhar ElGhazal state. And according to the feedback received by this author on the quality of their work, AYAD did a very bad job in Aweil. The company blocked waterways wherever the road crossed them including: natural drainage channels, and seasonal streams. Now the company is being sued in the court of law by Aweil Community leaders for negligence and for being responsible of recent flooding in Aweil that led to loss of life and property. Specifically, it is being asked to pay for damages caused by its poor road engineering work. The muscle behind AYAD/Africa Congdai consortium is a Northern company called Abdalaziz and Sons Co. Otherwise, according to one informed source, the Southern Sudanese shareholders in AYAD were ordinary people when peace agreement was signed. But few of AYAD shareholders are now said to have jumped from rags to riches since GOSS was established.

Changing the Initial Project Plan
After being promised the contract to execute Wau-Lietnhom road, the contractor, AYAD, in cooperation with Warap Ministry of Transport, are now modifying the path of the road. The original road was planned before the Naivasha agreement was signed. It goes from Wau through Panameth, Nyinakpk, Matiel, Malwalwut, Luanyaker, and Lietnhom. The planners wanted to ensure that it passes through many parts of Gogrial East County so that these areas can have easy access to services. The modified road will pass through Warngap, Achong Chong, Manyang, Pankot, and Mayenrual, Luanyaker, and Lietnhom. Of all these named places in the new plan, only Mayenrual, Luanyaker, and Lietnhom fall within Gogrial East County. The others are in North Tonj County.

To put it mildly, great majority of areas of the county will not be served by this new road. The concerns of citizens of Gogrial East (Apuk) are being flatly ignored. Governor Tor Deng is taking away the road the Apuk people of East Gogrial wanted, and is giving them the road they never wanted. It is taking away the fish from people’s mouth, and giving them a stinking scorpion, an utterly improper deed.

Governors getting too close to big business?
Thurjok was given green light to go ahead with road project by Gogrial East Commissioner and former Warap State government. Their subcontractor (Awrad for Roads and Bridges) completed more than 30 km of dual carriageway that is said to have no parallel anywhere in South Sudan. Shortly after the appointment of Tor Deng as Warap state governor, things began the go bad for Thurjok and their subcontractor, Awrad. In collaboration with governor Mark Nyipuoc of Western Bhar El Ghazal state, an army was sent to order at gun-point the workers and security guards of Thujok subcontractor to stop roadwork, dismantle their camps, and vacate all their men and equipment back to Wau town. When governor Mark Nypuoch was asked why he was doing that, he answered that he did not want "these people" to construct roads nor erect camps on his [state] land! Ignoring the fact that the whole purpose for the project was to link Wau and East Gogrial County and that there bound to be some inter-states roadwork and camping.

And as it is turning out, there is self-vested interest to all this. As revealed by a recent Khartoum Monitor interview with governor Mark Nyipuoc (Khartoum Monitor, Vol. 7 Issue No. 1647, September 24, 2008) AYAD has been awarded contracts to construct Wau-Raja road, and internal roads within Wau town. Like governor Tor Deng, it can be construed that governor Mark Nyipuoc would not want any other company beside AYAD to win Wau-Lietnhom road. This is gross favouritism being practiced in day light by two SPLM governors, and there is no one anywhere in the world to tell them to stop the misuse of SPLM authority as well as cease poking their noses too deep into business.

Where is GOSS Ministry of Transportation in this?
According to my investigation, Thurjok has been unable to secure the blessing of the GOSS ministry of transportation. This is primarily due to the report filed by governor Tor Deng, which says Thurjok has no capability to successfully complete the project. Thurjok, on the other hand, tried to convince the GOSS minister of transport, Deng Athorbei, to independently find facts for himself. And accordingly, the minister Deng Athorbei asked for a report from his authorized person in Wau. Paradoxically, the authorized person filed a report that confirmed the claims of governor Tor, despite visiting the company and being shown around. Disappointed by what they called misrepresentation of facts, Thurjok decided to film a video at company headquarters in Wau showing all the construction equipment and recorded interviews with key officials in Warap State at company’s headquarters and on several locations on completed parts of the road. When the video was presented to Minister Deng Athorbei, he was all the more confused, or rather seemed to be. The fight has also reached the desk of president Salva Kiir Mayardit, who was also said to have been confused by contradicting reports from governor Tor Deng and managers of Thurjok International. Therefore, the president of GOSS has been unable to arbitrate. And why should the president of GOSS be a final arbiter in awards of contracts when there is whole government machinery in place?

Concluding Remarks
I have just given a brief background to the controversy surrounding the award of contracts for road construction projects in Warap and Western Bhar EL Ghazal State. Much can be said about malpractices being pursued by the authorities in those states. It suffices to say that there is no fair system of tendering and arbitration in award of contracts in Warap State (I don’t know the situation in other states), which opens way to favouritism and corruption. Second, the trend is now to concentrate road construction business in Warap, Western Bhar El Ghazal, and Northern Bhar El Ghazal (Awiel) in the hands of one company, AYAD/Africa Congdai consortium. This is in contradiction to principle of fairness and "wealth-sharing" ingrained in the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Wealth sharing should be reflected in North-South relationships and in South-South relationships. Anything short of that is marginalization. Here we see that only few select companies are being enriched by being given complete monopoly; while others are being deliberately driven out of business at gun point. Certainly not what SPLM stood for. Third, there is no interest to take into account the views of the main stakeholders (the authorities and citizens of Gogrial East County) as to who should execute their vital project, and what sort of benefits they will derive from the project when completed. Giving the contract away to AYAD/Africa Congdai Consortium and diverting the path of the road from the original plan without their approval, clearly amounts to the total marginalization, even oppression, of people of Gogrial East County by the uneven-handed governor Tor Deng & Co.

Yes, so much has been said by SPLM over years about ending marginalization and fighting all forms of inequalities in our society, truly a noble call. But actions speak louder than words, and SPLM will be judged more by what its government does on the ground and not by fanciful nationalistic slogans, good speeches by its leaders, or the usual clever talk in the medial by SPLM Secretary General, comrade Pagan Amum.

The current SPLM government has two choices, not more: to take a hard look at itself, change course, and administer justice and fairness; or continue to alienate the very people it claims to serve, come what may.


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