George Conway, UNDP Country Director a.i, Roundtable Meeting on Decentralization and Intergovernmental Linkages in South Sudan

28 Jun 2012

Distinguished Representatives from the Office of the President,

Honourable Members of the National Assembly and the Council of States,

Honourable Members of the Local Government Board,

State Ministers of Local Government and Law Enforcement,

Representatives of the international community,

Colleagues,

Good morning.

On behalf of UNDP, I would like to welcome you to this roundtable discussion on decentralization. Let me begin by expressing our gratitude to the Office of the President, in particular the Directorate of Decentralization and Intergovernmental Linkages, as well as the Council of States, and the Local Government Board for organizing this timely discussion on the status and challenges of decentralization in South Sudan.

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 development outcomes alone. Rather, 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 Government and the development needs of communities.

That being said, UNDP acknowledges that there is no universal system of devolved government that is right for all contexts. There is a large body of knowledge about how to design systems of devolution from which we can draw comparative insights. Ultimately, however, it will fall to each country to adopt an approach that is best for its own political and economic circumstances. As a result, the approach to decentralization and devolution that South Sudan will take must be informed by its own history, its own unique challenges, as well as its aspirations for peace, development, and a better quality of life for all of its people.

It is very clear that decentralization is a priority for the new Republic of South Sudan. Decentralization is articulated in the Local Government Act of 2009, and it is entrenched in the Transitional Constitution of 2011. The Transitional Constitution recognizes the need to devolve some key central government fiscal, administrative and political authority to governments at the sub-national levels. The Transitional Constitution also makes clear reference to the three levels of Government -- National, State and Local -- being structured on the basis of decentralization.

We also know, South Sudan has a complex structure of traditional governance systems and these are difficult to manage through a highly centralized government system. The Local Government Act of 2009 was the first and major step towards defining a more decentralized governance structure for South Sudan. However, there remain constraints to its implementation. These include multiple, and sometimes contradictory, mechanisms to devolve power. The limited capacities at County and Payam levels have also inhibited decentralization thus far. Such issues as these will continue to present challenges if not addressed and resolved. The National Decentralization Policy that clarifies these issues would be timely, as South Sudan embarks on a process to prepare its new permanent Constitution, where such policy commitments to decentralization may be affirmed in law, and from which all subsidiary laws can then be developed.

I am very hopeful that, whatever approaches are adopted in your discussions, they will reflect an understanding of the relationship between decentralized governance and the ability to reduce poverty, meet basic needs and achieve growth. I also hope that they will reflect a careful balance between the need for national direction, and the importance of sub-national discretion. I trust that your deliberations will focus on what is key: establishing a governance structure that is responsive to South Sudan’s development needs, rather than focusing on the vocabulary itself and words such as "unitary," "federal," "centralized," or "decentralized".

Our experience shows that an effective system of decentralized governance is strengthened by continuous dialogue using democratic, transparent, and participative processes. We hope that this roundtable discussion will contribute to such a dialogue, and towards shaping a decentralization policy for South Sudan. UNDP is pleased to participate and share knowledge gained through experiences across East and Southern Africa, and we present on these findings. We do have a colleague from our Regional Service Centre in Johannesburg who will trust that it will be useful to reflect on other models of decentralization and devolution in the region, and see what lessons can be learned from them.

In closing, let me highlight a few issues that I hope will be part of your discussions:

·  Clarity on intergovernmental relations, and on mechanisms to resolve issues between the different levels of Government;

·  Transparency in the fiscal transfer system;

·  Effective policy management and monitoring capability at the national level, especially in the treasury;

·  Transparency in budgeting, reporting and accounting;  

·  A stable and professional civil service insulated from undue political interference;

·  Strengthening accountability, and a culture of inclusive and accountable politics and leadership;

·  And finally, mechanisms to target financing to the most vulnerable households who need it the most.

I am pleased to reaffirm UNDP’s commitment to supporting the Government of the Republic of South Sudan work though the policy options on decentralization, by facilitating consultative processes such as this roundtable discussion, and by providing technical expertise and lessons learned from our experience across the 177 countries where UNDP is on the ground, including almost every country in Africa. We are very committed to being a constructive partner in both the overall state building process of the new Republic of South Sudan, and to remain engaged with the decentralization process as Government moves forward with it.

I look forward to the outcomes of this roundtable, and wish you a productive set of discussions over the next two days. Thank you very much.