By Sultan Kok Malok
OPINION – Many attempts have been made by scholars to understand and develop approaches and theories explaining public policy processes, policy outcomes and policy effects since 1950s. The Science and art involved in public administration have necessitated the need for a broader understanding and specifications of theories defining the public administration.
This piece of writing intend to shade light on only two conflicting theories (Institutionalism and unilateralism) and their effects on public administration at the sub-national level in the Republic of South Sudan. The writer is a political activist at a sub-national level with first hand experiences on the weaknesses of public administration at those levels. The two above mentioned theories are to a great extent, the main features of public administration in the Republic of South Sudan where the former remains a concept while the later defines the exact feature.
It is to be noted that public administration was initially (1953-1980s) pinned around some key concepts such as Rationalism, Contextualism, and Instrumentalism. At a later stage, Institutionalism became the most dominant benchmark of public policy approach. Before we discuss Institutionalism and Unilateralism in the case of South Sudan, lets define the below concepts in relation to of public administration.
- Rationalism: This is the idea that there must be two or more proportionate choices from which you can choose that which has greater benefits to the public.
- Contextualism: This is a view that public policy and politics should be dependent on exogenous forces/dictates of the existing contexts instead of being subjected to specific processes and means.
- Instrumentalism: The idea that ‘outcomes’ are more important than means and processes used. This concepts though not conclusively results-driven, takes its pride in the fact that whatever decision that produces the desired results for the public is good one regardless of whether it respects the existing protocols or not.
- Institutionalism: The principal understanding of institutionalism is based on the fact that institutions exist to achieve certain goals using certain specified means (resources, skills, structures and time. In a simple term, it is to commit to the set of rules and protocols as initially spelt out in the establishment order of the institution while determining decisions.
- Unilateralism: the idea that policy politics revolve around choice of a decision maker rather than on interpretation and impact of such a decision on stakeholders and beneficiaries.
Most of these theories take as starting point the calculative means-ends, rationality of the choice which if, by this choice, a maximum goal accomplishment can be realized, given the goal in question and the actual world as it is (Dahl and Lindblom, 1953). In the 1980s the dominance of rational approaches was challenged by the new institutionalism in the social sciences. Generally, institutions can be considered as ‘the working rules of society’ (Ostrom, 1990: 51), whereas government institutions can be defined as systems of collectively binding working rules, which are pivotal for coordinating collective decision making.
The emergence of Unity government (R-TGoNU) across the country as a result of the Revitalized Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan has exposed the sad realities which have existed in public administration at Sub-national levels since 2005.
We have seen claims and counter claims by leading figures in the parties to the agreement about unilateral decisions being taken by members of the transitional government at states level.
The Presidential advisory note titled “Cooperation and Collegial governance of the state governance” dated 12th April 2021 is a testimony of how badly our sub-national leaders are misusing the rare opportunity of working together to in delivering services to our people during this transition. In Awiel, Western Bahr El Gazal, Lakes, Western Equatoria, Jonglei and most recently Central Equatoria, reports of governors and deputy governors clashing over administrative and political functions. These incidents may be seen by many in the context of the new situation of political pluralism but, honestly, these issues of unilateralism have existed even before the new political dispensation. Records of clashes between executive arm of government and parliaments existed during 10 states era to the 32 states era. Leading officials at sub-national levels have always behaved in a way preponderant to institutionalism.
Though the many would say in South Sudan, we are operating a system where individuals heading institutions are more powerful than the institutions they lead; the behavior of leaders at sub-national levels is nowhere near principles of public administration. This attitude was presumptuously attributed to some cultures developed during the years of liberation where an area commander was for example, the commander, the judicial officer and the political and administrative authority at the same time. Although such assumptions could be correct to some extent, the fact remains that sub-national officials have been given a large landscape to do as they please firstly by the populace. This is either because our population is less informed on governance or because of lack of protection should one dare to talk, secondly, the institutions such as parliaments which should keep the powers of these sub-national leaders at balance have either been tooth-broken and given up or have been rendered useless and have just remained in existence as for formality or show off. Honestly, the existence of state parliaments has been as good as their non-existence. And thirdly, the lack of clarity on the roles of central authorities in protecting the sub-national institutions from being misused by few to the fulfillment of individual interests
It is obvious that state and county governments are operated unilaterally across the country whether before the R-ARCSS or now. Political, administrative and financial corruption has grown to unspeakable heights.
Only the heads of sub-national institutions have the knowledge about the financial resources available, the right to use these resources for individual or group purpose.
Not any one whether public or legislative institutions know how much a state generates, how it gets spent and why it is spent that way.
Many State officials have amassed millions of Pounds and USDs in months if not days with Personal Income Tax from Companies and NGOs sector becoming a private affair between the heads of sub-national levels and their confidants in financial dockets. In former western Lakes for example, a military general who by the time of his appointment never had a concrete house, worked for only 96 days as governor and by the time he was sacked, he was building a house visibly using state resources with the construction being supervised by the then minister of finance. The house is worth half a million dollars. Until today, neither the state legislative assembly nor national authorities have asked him to account for this maladministration. State revenue becomes a formal right to governors immediately upon appointment by the president.
Tax-payers money is directly going for private businesses of individuals and state institutions are left to bats.
At sub-national levels, there is no regard to institutions whatsoever. Structural decision making remains a dream to be achieved. The principles of governance have been forgone and substituted with unilateralism backed up by use of state security to inflict fear and intimidation on potential critics. The only choice remaining with majority of citizens is silent prayers for God’s intervention. For a few, social media provides a solace for easing oneself from the stress resulting from misdeeds of public officials since there are no credible parliaments to raise concerns of their electorates.
On political decisions, since the state leaders are appointed on party tickets, they are expected to use the existing party structures at local levels to help guide their political actions. However, the reality is that, the existing party structures have been overtime rendered useless, threatened, sometimes humiliated, arrested and tortured with most recent example being the case of Jonglei where over thirty SPLM members most of them former officials have been arrested for allegedly writing a petition for removal of deputy governor who was appointed on the SPLM ticket. This in itself reveals the sad reality that the SPLM does not exist as an institution whose set of rules should guide the conducts of its assigned officials.
SPLM leadership at this point in time needs to take serious the need for strengthening its internal governance systems, invest in its structures and keep close monitoring of its assigned members at sub-national levels who repeatedly show lack of respect for institutionalism.
The state of affairs at sub-national levels if not attended to, may serve as the last gauge of status of our public systems.
We need a robust intervention and specifically new approach which is different from mere decrees of appointments and relieve by the president.
The president should re-invigorate the spirit of institutionalism and provide necessary guidance and means of supervising the conduct of those he appoints to lead sub-national levels including the possibility of rewards and punishments.
The author is a concerned citizen of South Sudan and a political activist. He can be reached via: email@example.com.
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