South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s recent decision to roll heads in the Finance Ministry has not enthused experts, who are demanding structural and institutional reforms to address economic woes.
Augustino Ting Mayai, an analyst with the Juba-based Sudd Institute, said that just changing leaders is not enough to transform the country.
“There is an opportunity presented by the changes that have now taken place in the economic sector, but you need institutional reforms backed by the political leadership,” he said.
The analyst advocated strong measures to prevent corruption and a commitment to ensure that the taxes that are collected go into public coffers and not individual pockets.
On Wednesday, President Salva Kiir dismissed Finance Minister Salvatore Garang Mabiordit, replacing him with Athian Ding Athian.
Interestingly, Athian himself was dismissed earlier from the position of deputy finance minister in 2018.
He also dismissed Chol Deng Thon Abel, head of the Nile Petroleum Corporation (Nilepet), and Erjok Bullen, head of the National Revenue Authority (NRA).
Although no reasons for these changes were given officially, it looks that it was an attempt to punish them for the economic crises.
Jame David Kolok, the executive director for Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance, demanded accountability in the governance system, adding the sacking of top people over graft allegations was not enough.
“Resolving the economic predicament of South Sudan is actually beyond firing and replacing people,” said Kolok.
Cry for Investigating sacked officials
He said when somebody has been charged with mismanaging national resources, he should not be just fired and allowed to go to his home.
“There must be a thorough investigation done and if that person is found to be culpable then he must be prosecuted. That is exactly what can send a very clear message, “he added.
While supporting the president’s actions, he said the three individuals who have been sacked should be properly investigated under the law.
Such are the economic woes of the country that a single US dollar currently accounts for 550 South Sudanese pounds.
Mayai said the government has already committed to bringing in transparency and accountability in the peace agreement that it signed in 2018.
Fresh from decades of civil war, the outbreak of COVID-19 has further sent the South Sudan economy into a tailspin. The pandemic has reduced oil production from 190,000 barrels per day (BPD) to 170,000 BPD.
Due to restrictions enforced due to pandemic the non-oil revenue collection has also been disrupted at the various border points in the country.
“There are two impediments to the economy that we all know. One is COVID-19, having disrupted oil production and global oil prices and then you have a disruption in tax collection and then you can add corruption,” Mayai said.
Investment in agriculture
But he hastened to add that the problem lies with the political leaders who have to ensure transparency, accountability, and non-interference in technical issues.
He recommended that investing more in the agricultural sector could help the government to diversify sources of revenue.
“What is going to save the economy in the long-run is, if we have local production which produces not just items for consumption but things to export beyond oil. Agriculture is a big sector that is being ignored but it is the mainstay of our economy. We need to invest more and produce to reduce dependency on imports which is draining our forex reserves,” he said.
Edmund Yakani, the executive director for the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) asked for centralization of the revenue collection in a single account operated by the national revenue authority.
“National Revenue Authority should immediately direct the other government institutions tasked with the responsibility of revenue collection to use banking system for the payment of all forms of revenue across South Sudan,” he said.
He urged the president to keep monitoring all government institutions mandated to collect revenue to ensure they are doing their job.