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Full Text: Vice Chancellor Prof John Akec’s speech at the 23rd graduation ceremony at University of Juba

By Professor John A. Akec

Full Text: Vice Chancellor Prof John Akec’s speech at the 23rd graduation ceremony at University of Juba
Prof John Akec, Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba (photo credit: courtesy)

June 21, 2021 – Your Excellency, General Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Republic of South Sudan, and Chancellor of the University of Juba;

Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Technology;

Graduands and Parents;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

All protocols observed.

On behalf of the administration, staff, and students of the University of Juba, it is my privilege to warmly welcome you all to today’s graduation ceremony. I want to give very special thanks to H.E. General Salva Kiir Mayardit, the President of the Republic of South Sudan, and Chancellor of the University of Juba for honoring us with his presence. And allow me, your Excellency, to say that the Graduands of Class 2021, like those before them, are blessed by your presence. We are humbled and grateful for your unwavering support. We do not take this for granted. And on behalf of the University of Juba Community and my own behalf,  I appeal to you Your Excellency to feel at home, amongst your staff, your guests, graduands, and parents of our graduands.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Hon. Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Technology for his leadership and for honoring us with his presence. I want to thank Hon. Dr. Manase Lomole Waya, the Chairman of the University of Juba Council, for his unwavering support to the University Administration, and for his wise counsel.

Your Excellency the Chancellor,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, approximately 1,800 graduands (304 Females, and 1452 males) will be awarded diplomas and degrees as follows: about 685 Diplomas, 751 Bachelor’s degrees; 41 Postgraduate Diplomas; 256 Master degrees; and 16 Ph.D. degrees.

The distribution of undergraduate graduates and postgraduates across schools and institutes is as follows: School of Community Studies and Rural Development (341), School of Business and Management (347), School of Social and Economic Studies (362), School of Medicine (39), School of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (47), School of Law (78), School of Education (97), School of Computer Science and Information Technology (83), School of Arts and Humanities (85), School of Arts, Music, and Drama (4), School of Public Service (44 postgraduates), and Institute for Peace, Development, and Security Studies (11 postgraduate degrees).

I want to say congratulations to the graduands of Class 2021 for this great achievement. I also want to thank the parents for their material and moral support to their sons and daughters over many years.

Most importantly, I want to appeal to you, our graduands, to go out and serve in the community with diligence and integrity. To apply what you have learned in tackling developmental challenges facing our society. Be active citizens who are endowed with humanistic values, empathy, respect, tolerance, and to be conscious about your responsibility towards society. Know that it matters most what you can do to serve society, than what society can do to serve you. You must be a life-long learner, ready to listen to other forms and domains of knowledge; and be humble enough to open up to new learning that will allow you to succeed in various careers in the world of work. You must think globally while acting locally.

I would like to encourage parents, especially those who have businesses to support universities, not just the University of Juba, financially. Such support will go a long way in improving the quality of learning at our universities for the benefit of current and future generations of students, and the society at large.

Your Excellency the Chancellor,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As a University, we see our mission in three areas: Education, Research, and Service to Community.

On Education Front (First Mission):

On this 23rd Convocation in the history of the University of Juba, we are indeed proud to report that since its inception in 1975, the University has witnessed milestone strides reflected in the growth of its faculty, number of schools, academic programs, and student population. As I mentioned earlier, today we are passing out a total of 1800 graduates made up of 1452 males and 304 females.

Currently, despite the myriad of challenges facing us, the University boasts nearly 24,000 undergraduates and more than 2,000 postgraduate students. We now host 17 Undergraduate Schools some of which also offer postgraduate programs, a graduate College, and Kuajok Community College. At the postgraduate level, we have the School of Public Service (SPS) and the Institute of Peace, Development, and Security Studies (IDPSS). In addition, we host the National Transformation Leadership Institute (NTLI). We will admit students to the School of Medical Laboratory Sciences and School of Petroleum and Minerals when we start a new academic year in October or November 2021. This will bring our programs to a total of 152 programs of which undergraduate programs are 88, and postgraduate to 64, up from 6 postgraduate programs in march 2014 when this administration was installed.

However, Your Excellency the Chancellor, we do have acute challenges with laboratories and lecture hall spaces to the extent that students at times stand up in classes due to overcrowding. Our attempts to face up to these numerous challenges have always been thwarted by limited financial resources. As the leading public university in the country, the people of South Sudan are looking to us for leadership in the provision of quality higher education. We are expected to do more with less. But this philosophy obviously does have limits, and we want to bring that to your kind attention.

On Research Front (Second Mission):

Not much is happening because of funding challenges. Few research funds that come through tend to address problems that are seen by donors as a priority but not necessarily a national priority. And they are very limited in scope. This is an area for national attention. Some research happens in our postgraduate programs but is also constrained by resources.  Without good research going on at the University of Juba, it will not be possible for us to claim a world-class status.

On the Service Front (Third Mission):

Increasingly, we in the academia, civil society, and the general public are concerned about the spiraling inflation, the rocketing prices of essential commodities in the market in South Sudan for the last six years and which has led to a high cost of living; while the salaries have remained static for a great majority of public sector employees over the same period.

This situation has caused economic hardships as stagnant wages in the public sector continue to push the employee below the poverty line. The affected public sector employees include civil servants, government ministers, members of legislative houses, judges, doctors and nurses, academics and teachers, and members of the organized forces and law enforcement agencies.

For example, a private policeman currently receives a monthly salary of SSP 1,500. This cannot buy a single meal for a family. A civil servant currently receives a salary of SSP 5,000; a member of Parliament salary does not exceed SSP 11,000, and a government minister receives SSP 20,000 per month. And hence, we are left wondering how can policemen, civil servants, members of parliament, and government ministers in South Sudan survive or cater to their families’ needs, including feeding, transport, accommodation, schooling, and medical treatment.

Another concern: civil servants are working past retirement age while young graduates with energy are unemployed because of a lack of pensions. In addition, medical treatment is now a challenge to all South Sudanese families because of the spiraling cost of private medical treatment; and the absence of medical insurance cover against illness which many countries have, which allows citizens from all social ranks and incomes to have free access to medical care at the point of need. One British statesman once noted: “it is very bad to be sick when you are poor.” This is no longer the case in Britain after the Second World War when National Health Service was established and is now paid for by tax by British people themselves. It is no longer bad to be sick when poor in that country. Here we have none of that kind of solution.

Left unchecked, the situation could lead to social and political unrest in not too distant future.

As our contribution to finding home-grown solutions to economic challenges facing our nation, we as a University want to provide evidence-based solutions that inform economic policy design in the aforementioned areas of concern. Hence, the University of Juba and a number of think-tanks have been working since January 2021 on a framework for reviewing the salaries and wages of employees of public sector.

This framework has identified the challenges that exist in the current government’s proposed public wage structure and provides alternative and better approaches to reviewing public sector wages, as well as propose new public sector wages and salaries that are comparable in terms of purchasing power parity to the region.

The draft report is ready for sharing with the Ministry of Public Service, and the Economic Cluster this coming Wednesday. Afterward, the report will be shared widely and we hope it will be adopted by our government. The Universities have benefited from the adjustment of the pay in 2019. We are using our experience to benefit all the sectors of our economy. Again, Your Excellency, your weight and support are going to be critical in the adoption of the new proposal, as it was in the payment of salaries for a staff of universities in our country.

Key findings of our report include:

1-    The share of the public sector wage bill as a percentage of government revenue has declined from 51% in 2011 to 13% in 2020. In contrast, the Kenyan wage bill has remained constant at 18% of government revenue since 2011.

2-    Currently, the security sector takes 72% of the public wage bill. This starves other sectors of the government and undermines civil service.

3-    South Sudan has one of the largest army and security sector personnel headcounts on the African continent. It comes second to Nigeria. This is disproportionate to the population size of South Sudan (12 million), compared to Nigeria (200 million). Moreover, members of our security sector are paid very low salaries. It may be the lowest on the continent. This does not improve the security of the country at all.

4-    Large numbers of public sector employees are unclassified staff

5-    There is a need to widen tax bases and improve tax administration capacity to collect enough taxes if we are to be able to improve public revenue and meet the cost of the proposed salary structure. We have proposed a few areas for widening our tax base.

Furthermore, the University of Juba has submitted a Concept Note on how to improve the delivery of health care at Juba Teaching Hospital and across South Sudan to the Honourable Minister of Health, and we are still waiting for a response.

Right now, Your Excellency the Chancellor, the service at Juba Teaching Hospital is very poor. As one co-patient described the Outpatient Department to me recently: “everyone is jumbled up together, blood covers the floor, and washrooms are all locked. It is a place of great suffering and anguish.” Your Excellency, something must be done about healthcare in our country and the University of Juba is more than ready to assist devise a new health policy.

Standing with the national government to tackle social and economic challenges is not a responsibility that is only unique to the University of Juba. Far from it. It is a universal principle that universities frequently assist their national governments to solve complex social and economic challenges. And we, as the University of Juba, cannot stand at the margin and watch our government struggle, and our citizens suffer without us offering ourselves to assist.

Your Excellency the Chancellor,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Before closing, I would like to thank Prof. Mairi John Blackings, the Academic Registrar, and the Chair of Graduation Ceremony and his very able team for organizing this Graduation Ceremony for six years in a row, except in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, under challenging economic conditions the country is going through. I want to thank the Deans of our Schools, and Directors of Institutes and specialized Centres, Departmental Heads, and Examination officers for making it possible to graduate this batch of 2019.

Very special thanks to our administrative, technical, support, and security staff for keeping the University of Juba working and afloat, every day, 365 days a year. I want to thank the President’s Protocol team; the SSBC crew, Management, and the Ministry of Information for the live coverage. I also thank the Military Band and everyone who contributed to making this occasion so great.

Last but not least, I want to thank our Masters of Ceremonies today. They are Dr. Moses Hassen Ayat Tiel, Interim Dean of School of Pharmacy; Dr. Rose Costa Mapuor, Dean School of Medicine; and Dr. Al-Faki Chol Lual, the Dean of School of Law.

I also want to appreciate the staff in my office: My Executive Director Bek, the Deputy Executive Director Nyanwel, Assistant Executive Director Suzan; Public Relations Germano Taban; my Secretary Margaret Wani, and assistant Ayeida, and the support staff Aida, Aliet, and Nora, my Driver Taban Isaac, and the rest for their hard work and support to me while preparing for this occasion.

Thank you for listening.

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