Decentralization Roundtable: Key Government officials discussed status and implementation of decentralization

29 Jun 2012

Organized by the Office of the President - Directorate of Inter-Governmental Linkages, Council of States, Local Government Board and with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a two-day meeting on decentralisation was held in Juba from 28 – 29 June 2012.  The Roundtable examined the current policy and regulatory frameworks as well as the institutional arrangements and mandates for the implementation of decentralization.

Decentralization refers to the devolution of centralized powers – fiscal, administrative and political – to regional or local governments.  It is a priority for South Sudan and is affirmed in the Transitional Constitution of 2011.  Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between decentralized governance and the ability of governments to meet basic needs, reduce poverty and invest for growth.

George Conway, UNDP Country Director a.i.  opened the meeting explaining the link between decentralization and development “We know that national level governments have an important role to play in achieving sustainable human development and reducing poverty.  However, recurrent lessons over the past half-century have shown that centrally driven governance and administration cannot achieve these outcomes alone.  Instead, political, administrative and fiscal decentralization are critical to ensure that services are brought closer to the people, and that there is closer alignment between the priorities of the State and the development needs of communities.”

The Honourable Tor Deng Mawien, Presidential Advisor for Decentralization and Intergovernmental Linkages explained the importance of decentralization, “decentralization ensures service delivery since it is a key key function of local government.”  He continued “it is not a trend but a political tool of Government.”  He further stated the makeup of decentralisation as having “one nation two systems and 4 levels of governance consisting of Political, legal, Administrative and Financial.”

The Honourable Tor Deng Mawien also highlighted the challenges of decentralization and emphasised a number of ideas that should be identified in coherence with the mechanism of the national decentralisation system.  The challenges of implementing decentralization in South Sudan faces include:

1.            Reaching a clear understanding of decentralization

2.            Matching assignments and community projects with resources to directly benefit the local people is imperative for public service delivery

3.            Defining boundaries of local governments’ institutions of counties.  This area of focus is essential in establishing clear demarcation of the ten states in order to improve security and understanding amongst the different tribal groups currently occupying the area.

4.            Comprehensive guidelines and principles, for example “crisis” lacks definition and therefore a Presidential intervention to remove a governor of a troubled state can be poorly executed.

5.            The shortage of basic facilities, offices, headquarters, commissions and the electoral mandate for appointing chiefs are causing problems amongst the communities.

6.            The lack of national unity and integrity by distributing workers around the counties in key positions as to diversify the workforce should be addressed.

The workshop was attended by state ministers, members of state councils, and supporting senior Government officials Participants discussed the strategy and challenges of implementing the decentralization regulatory framework policy that will strengthen and distribute the centralized powers more effectively.

A number of transformational resolutions were agreed on by participants to help address the challenges and provide a thorough understanding on how to counteract the barriers of decentralization.  These recommendations include:

Resolution 1: Establishment of a National Decentralization Policy and strategy to guide the implementation of decentralization as provided by the 2011 Transitional Constitution of South Sudan;

Resolution 2: Harmonization of laws pertaining to decentralization and local government with the Transitional Constitution;

Resolution 3: Establishment and operationalization of a national body or Ministry in charge of decentralization and local government at the national level to coordinate and oversee the implementation of decentralization, local government management and development in South Sudan.

Resolution 4: Issuance of warrant of establishment for current counties, demarcation of current county boundaries to facilitate planning, budgeting and equitable service delivery;

Resolution 5: Development of dissemination and communication strategies and activities to promote community ownership of decentralization processes and accompanying laws and regulations.  This will enhance ownership of decentralization at all levels and between states and counties respectively;

Resolution 6: Adoption of a common definition, guiding principles, norms and standards for decentralization in South Sudan.  This should be within South Sudan’s historical context and development vision;

Resolution 7: Harmonization of fiscal decentralization guidelines and accountability mechanisms, including development of criteria for equitable distribution of resources between the various levels of government;

Resolution 8: Establishment of a mechanism for stakeholder, civil societies and development partners’ participation, for inclusive service delivery;

Resolution 9: Conduct feasibility studies as appropriate to inform the review of aspects of decentralization; and

Resolution 10: Establishment of a monitoring, evaluation and feedback mechanism on progress towards decentralization.