By Emilio Tongun Mongu,
Nov 7, 2015(Nyamilepedia) —- There are confusions in our minds, the minds of our leaders, and the overall politicians in understanding the concept of Federalism or decentralization. For many of us, the Federal or Decentralization System of the governance is simply the multiplication of the state into many multiple small administrative units to give rooms for others to get chance of employment without adequate study to establish them. In other words, it is the creation of more positions in the nation to please the citizens without defining the sources of revenues for funding these positions. This way people will be happy because everybody in his or her locality will have a chance to have a job. But that is not the point. What are needed in our case are the setting of systems and priorities; meaning what we need to do first, next, and the list follows; and how to do it through identifying the needs in the country. To do so we need to know our number in the country (population), how much resources do we have to be used in generating revenue; because through revenue or Gross Domestic Products (GDP) is where our value is determined in term of development.
To get into the point, let us draw the line of understanding between the terms “ Decentralization and Federalism”. As a matter of fact, drawing a line between these two parameters require a concise understanding of their heads and tails. Uncle Jacob K. Lupai wrote in his article “There is Fundamental Difference Between Decentralization or Devolution of Powers and Federalism” in South Sudan News Agency, dated July 17, 2014 that decentralization or devolution can simply means the transfer of part of the powers of the central government to regional or state authorities and it is in response to demands for diversity. In general decentralization or devolution is a response to the problems of centralized systems. It is seen as a solution to problems like economic decline, government inability to fund services and the demands of minorities for greater say in local governance. Decentralization or devolution of powers is linked to concepts of participation in decision-making, democracy, equality and liberty from high authority.
Classical theorists suggest that decentralized governance has many advantages, especially (I) for democratic participation, representation, and accountability; (II) for public policy and governmental effectiveness; and (III) for the representation and accommodation of territorially based ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences. According to Lupai, the processes by which entities move to decentralized state vary. They can be initiated from the central government in a top-down approach. Top-down decentralization may be a political gimmick while bottom-up decentralization initiated by individuals or states may be opposed, as is the case with federalism we are now debating. At any rate whether it is top-down or bottom-up decentralization or devolution, it may not be constitutionally binding. Such decentralization or devolution may depend on the whims of the central government either to implement or ignore it.
With Federalism, Lupai revealed that Federalism is a political concept used to describe a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units such as the states in South Sudan. In comparing decentralization or devolution with federalism it can be stated that there is a fundamental difference. The difference between them is that decentralization is the devolution of powers by the central authority to lower levels, which the central authority may withdraw the devolved powers at will. In contrast, in federalism, powers are constitutionally divided, which is an agreement between the central authority and the state in the division of powers in the federal system of governance.
With the above explanation, the concept of federalism does not necessarily mean dividing the country into villages. What is needed is the system that needs to be put in place and be followed. For example, the powers to be transferred to the lower level of the administration claim the availability of resources in the nation to accomplish established goals or objectives in that particular locality to make it function effectively and efficiently. If the system is not in place, the importance of dividing the country into multiple numbers of states is nothing but misleading and misused of available resources. In fact, we should start our work where we start the journey of struggle (1983) to be able to show the difference of what we did during our time and what we inherited. We are very much happy to start with our three regional government systems to give enough room of understanding each other in our diverse communities better than what is going on in the country. For example, understanding the line dividing our brothers, the Nuer and Dinka. And this is a problem with Equatoria; they do not know who is who, Nuer or Dinka. With time, things will improve to better relationships within our communities.
The allegations that the towns are to be brought to the people or villages is misunderstood by our politicians. They thought creating the positions for governors, ministers, commissioners, and legislators are popular demand of our people. If that is the case, and if confirmed to be true, where are the resources for paying these positions? It is important to set the goals or objectives first and then find the means of achieving the stipulated goals or objectives by making sure that the means of achieving them must, at least, be equaled to the goals or objectives established. This is to include the physical infrastructures such as buildings for offices and other accessories. If we start our system from where we started the struggle, the former three provinces of Equatoria, Upper Nile, and Bahr El Ghazal, as regionalized in 1983, could a best area to start, will easily tailor our efforts and resources in the devolution of powers to the lower level of the administrative units in the system. Having three governors for Equatoria, Bahr el Ghazal, and Upper Nile each, instead of current ten governors, and reducing the positions of current ten governors into commissioners and the commissioners into executive administrators, sub-administrators, –etc., is economically meaningful, which can save us sufficient money for development.
It can be recalled that when Dr. John Gerang De Mabior, the founder of SPLM/A, stated that the towns are to be taken to the people or villages; he had plans of achieving these planned goals; and among them are the establishment of road networks, including road transports, rail roads, and river navigations in South Sudan. To have a close look, how can a town go to the village without road, because without road no connection with the people in the towns, where the interactions with different community members could take place, either in the markets or in the service centers. For this to happen we need resources to construct the road and the availability of these resources must be located and the sources multiplied rather than depending on one source only. It is here that we need to focus our energies in developing resources; and not relaying on misleading slogans of ‘taking towns to the people’. The transfer of central decision-making to democratically elected local and regional bodies gives citizens multiple points of access, thereby enhancing opportunities for public participation, increasing the accountability and responsiveness of elected officials to local citizens, and hence providing incentives for more responsive democratic government. The capacity of this process is to expand public engagement in community decision- making as illustrated by processes of participatory budget making and deliberative policy councils. To this end, the fiscal decentralization of the system can reduce corruption by strengthening the transparency of decision-making and the accountability of elected officials to local communities.
The proliferation of decision-making units at local and regional levels can also strengthens public policymaking, though potentially encouraging creative new solutions to tough problems. The process can encourage learning from social innovations and flexible experimentation, thereby reinventing governance to deal with complex challenges, for example in urban development and welfare policies. Instead of ‘one size fits all’, devolved government bodies may also tailor public services and regulations more efficiently and flexibly to meet the needs of each particular community. In short, decentralization efforts can be identified with the promotion of managerial efficiency and the enhancement of public services, as well as with more open, transparent, and accountable forms of representative democracy and the qualities of good governance.
Federalism and decentralization are to be considered particularly important strategies for plural societies where groups live in geographically- concentrated communities and where the administrative boundaries for political units reflect the distribution of these groups. These arrangements allow concentrated groups a considerable degree of self-determination to manage their own affairs and to protect their own cultural, social, and economic interests within their own communities, for example to control cultural teachings in their school curriculums, to determine levels of local taxation and expenditure for poorer marginalized areas, which have lost out to development, to administer internal security forces and justice systems, and to establish language policy regulating public broadcasting and official documents. Federal constitutions represent only one form of decentralization and similar claims can be advanced for other related institutions. In plural societies, where ethnic groups are geographically dispersed, administrative and political decentralization can also helps to promote accommodation, for example, allowing minorities to elect local representatives who could manage policies towards culturally sensitive issues such as education. Local forms of decision-making can be regarded as particularly important for the management of tensions among specific ethnic communities living within particular areas, by facilitating the inclusion of leaders drawn from ethnic minorities through municipal and state elections.
The author is a concern citizen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org