By Julius N. Uma
August 17, 2010 (KAMPALA) – With southern Sudan’s much-anticipated independence referendum just five months away, southern Governors and County Commissioners have embarked on a forum, to discuss pre and post-referendum issues.
The Commissioners’ Forum is an initiative bringing together top officials at state-level to review the challenges facing local governments in Southern Sudan ahead of the forthcoming referendum earmarked for early next year.
This initiative is spearheaded by the Government of Southern Sudan’s (GoSS) Local Government Board and state-level ministries of Local Government and Law Enforcement, with technical and financial assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Three counties in Eastern Equatoria state have held commissioners forums, with the most recent in the state capital, Torit.
According to a UNDP press release issued yesterday: “The main purpose of these forums, to be held in remaining states over the coming weeks, is to institutionalize a legitimate venue for officials (including traditional authorities) to discuss counties-specific issues and work on plausible solutions that can be implemented by local people through local resources.”
The commission’s discussions have centered on how to enhance the predictability and transparency of donor funds and GoSS fiscal transfers to states, lack of infrastructure and basic services as well as multiple capacity gaps.
“Since interventions at the county-level are often fragmented and uncoordinated, it is also hoped that these high-level forums will result in an increased understanding of the roles and responsibilities of various organizations and actors,” the press release said.
Each forum, Sudan Tribune has leant, is being held under the stewardship of the state Governors, with emphasis on implementation of the Local Government Act and the much-hyped decentralization policy.
During the discussions, the County Commissioners reportedly pledged full commitment towards the referendum, saying the forthcoming referendum exercise should be conducted on schedule.
They also committed themselves towards improving transparency in the collection and use of revenues and to do all they can to facilitate the upcoming referendum, through work on voter registration and raising awareness.
During a similar forum held in Central Equatoria State, Governor Clement Wani urged the southern government to fulfill its promise of transforming rural areas into proper habitable areas for the people.
The governor also underscored the important role played by traditional authorities in local government administration, citing the maintenance of security at county levels.
Mr. Joe Feeney, the head of UNDP in southern Sudan reaffirmed his organization’s continued commitment to supporting the southern Sudan government, especially in strengthening core administrative capacity at all tiers of government.
The County Commissioners’ Forum is expected to culminate into the Governors’ Forum, an annual event that brings together all the 10 Governors from across southern Sudan.
Currently in its eighth year, the annually-held event is of paramount importance for the peaceful and credible conduct of the referendum; a decisive milestone in the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.