Governors’ Forum, 26-29 November 2013: Statement by Toby Lanzer, UN Deputy Special Representative & Resident Coordinator in South Sudan
This is the tenth Governors’ Forum held since 2006; and the third held in independent South Sudan. This Forum is becoming a tradition that serves the country well. UNDP is proud to have supported the previous Governors’ Forums, and to work under the leadership of the Government to make it a success.
This year’s theme, “Transparent and Accountable Service Delivery for Local Development” is critical. Strengthening government provision of education, health services, security and investing in infrastructure will in turn help create the foundation for a stronger economy. And that will create the jobs which your country’s young population needs. Effective public service delivery is a precondition for sustainable local development, and more broadly for growth and the improvements in human development. Further, transparent and accountable service delivery makes a vital contribution to peace and stability.
Now, before continuing let me look back a bit. Recall this forum’s theme last year: food security and your declaration, Mr. President, of a “War on Poverty.” 2013 has been very difficult in many ways. There was no income; austerity bit hard. The government accumulated debt to keep things running, and transfers to states were significantly curtailed.
Austerity posed serious constraints, but you responded with resilience. Once again, the South Sudanese demonstrated that when you unite and focus on the things that matter most, you can achieve so very much. One of the untold stories is that, having lost 98% of your revenues, you maintained macroeconomic stability. There was no hyperinflation. The exchange rate remained relatively stable. You recognized the need for improving the collection of non-oil revenues and budget execution. On public financial management you engaged with partners – in particular DfID, USAID, and UNDP – to boost that capacity in the capital and at the state levels.
Austerity was just one of the short-term shocks that you had to endure over the past year. The key is not to allow these short-term shocks to derail South Sudan from its real destination: building resilient state institutions that can govern and care for people; enticing investors so that the economy can expand and jobs are created; and enabling civil society to take on a vibrant role in your new democracy.
Now that oil is flowing again, and that in itself can create a shock to the economy, we are tempted to imagine that austerity will end soon. Well, yes and no. Increased revenues will make available more money, but accumulated debts also need to be paid and pressures will mount on spending more money. As government finances are on a more stable footing, questions will emerge. What matters most to you? What can you afford? Now and in the future. In sum, what are the real priorities for peacebuilding and statebuilding?
Over the past six months you have lead in-depth consultations on the New Deal Compact, a mutual accountability framework which sets a course for both South Sudan and the international community here. Our work on the New Deal in the ten states has provided a picture of the burning priorities that affect all of you. It will enable us to focus on the ten things that matter most. Paying the bills of effective state institutions which provide security, education, and health care is a priority. Investing in capital such as roads is a priority. And so is saving for your children and their children. The New Deal Compact, its peacebuilding and statebuilding goals, helps ensure that our work is more focused and has a greater impact on improving people’s lives at the local level.
Allow me to share a story about the country in which I live, Sweden. My family and I reside in a rural part of the country. To reach our farmhouse one travels along a small, dirt road. There are very few other homes around. For my son to get to school, he rides his bicycle for a while down the small, dirt road and waits for a bus which takes him 20 km along a bigger road to a place where lots of children from rural parts of Sweden congregate. One school, in a town, serves many villages. I tell you this because even in a wealthy country like Sweden, there is never enough money to do everything, everywhere, at the same time. This situation, by the way, is similar in a country just west of Sweden, Norway. Even after forty years of wealth gained from petroleum, Norway like Sweden has had to learn to focus resources to deliver only the most important services to citizens – much like South Sudan is beginning to do.
As this country navigates the bumpy road ahead, we in the United Nations have made a commitment to stand with you in good and bad times to help you build your nation. We have made a commitment to listen and support your state institutions in delivering local services.
We in the UN, and in particular with non-governmental organisations of all sorts, are always interested in providing support throughout the ten states. We have worked side by side with state and county health authorities to eradicate polio and fight child mortality. We have worked to enable smallholder farmers to produce extra crops so that they can take them to markets. And we have recently launched a three year appeal – the first of its kind – to help the government respond to immediate needs, strengthen the resilience of communities, and build the capacity of key line ministries.
Here let us take a moment to recognize the work of civil society, which is key to progress on so many fronts, not only as organizations that deliver basic services but also serve as pillars of any vibrant society. The NGO Bill currently being discussed in the National Legislative Assembly is a key chance for South Sudan’s lawmakers to demonstrate a commitment to facilitating and supporting the contribution of this crucial sector. The debate is important and the Bill should not be pushed through in haste.
As for UN agencies, I am challenging my colleagues to focus on changing the way we work: increasingly, I want us to use national execution for our projects. This means using South Sudan’s systems for delivering short-term and long-term assistance. So far this year we have transferred some $24 million directly to government institutions. Further, I have called on United Nations personnel increasingly to leave their compounds and work by side in the offices of our national counterparts throughout the ten states. Our aim is to provide practical support in the key areas of peacebuilding and statebuilding.
I am looking forward to a thorough and frank discussion between the central government and governors in this year’s Governors’ Forum. These discussions are important to bring about improved coordination between national and subnational government, and a coherent policy framework that reflects South Sudan’s long-term interests. Public service delivery requires strong financial management; and clear mandates between the national and subnational levels, with matching funding. It also requires significant further capacity building in public financial management at the state and county levels.
In sum, the Governors’ Forum is an important venue where the voice of the states can be heard; it is a fitting example of democracy at work. I congratulate all of you for having made this highly relevant forum a tradition. The United Nations is very proud to continue supporting you and accompanying you as you help South Sudan move forward over the next year. The road will be bumpy and there will be short-term shocks. Let us not allow these to distract us from working together in a focused manner – NGOs, UN, donors, and government – to build a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic South Sudan.
Toby Lanzer is the United Nations Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and Resident and Humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan. You can follow him on Twitter @tobylanzer.