In a letter dated April 16, 2020, Timothy Tot Chol, the first deputy speaker of the now expired South Sudanese legislative assembly, summoned South Sudan's minister of defense, Angelina Nyajany Teny. In that letter, Mr. Timothy argued that ‘The Transitional National Legislature Task Force in its meeting 1/2020, dated 7 April 2020 discussed impact and challenges in implementing the preventive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the country.’
In response, however, Madam Angelina argued that she couldn’t appear before the legislature ‘until a reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly is formed.’ ‘However,’ she added ‘I recognize your concern regarding the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.’
Given the uncertain realities engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a provision could have been offered to allow parliament to continue operating if the selection of new MPs under the revitalized agreement will be taking too long to materialize. However, there is no such a provision so any words coming out of the South Sudanese legislative assembly is overruled by the agreement.
Failing to strategize and anticipate future problems of governance will continue to cripple Africa and South Sudan especially. Without such a foresight, problems will continue to mount as they always do.
Essentially, one of the main problems with South Sudanese politicians is their inability to follow state laws, agreements, and protocols. As people who are supposed to guide how issues are operationalized within the country, their disregard for the law, regulations and the agreed principle is astoundingly worrisome. What I don’t really know is if their disregard for institutionalism and constitutionalism is out of ignorance or sheer stubbornness.
While Minister Angelina could have complied given the circumstances the world is in, she acted within the mandate given by the agreement so she has a strong ground on which she can reject parliamentary summons. Mr. Timothy, however, has no such a ground even if he could have relied, with an understandable regulatory framework, on the new realities created by COVID-19.
Since the 2018 agreement spells out in section 1.14 the manner in which the Transitional Legislative Assembly is to be reconstituted, Mr. Timothy is acting outside the acceptable agreement provision. Section 1.164.6 states that ‘The duration and terms of the reconstituted TNL shall run concurrently with the RTGoNU, as per the terms of this Agreement, until elections are held.’ Mr. Timothy is therefore acting with a parliament that has not been reconstituted according to the provisions of the agreement.
However, the problem is not just this incident. South Sudanese state officials have a knack for acting outside their institutional mandate. They feel more powerful than their institutional and constitutional provisions allow them to. It is either Mr. Timothy did not read the agreement provision, or he doesn’t care what the agreement says.
In South Sudan, sadly, as long as you are not defying the president and his men, not much thought is given to how state officials bully other officials.
What is even more ominous is this attitude will continue throughout the interim period. Ministers and MPs feel more powerful and act outside accepted regulatory and legal provisions without any consequences.
Even when Minister Angelina wrote a letter explaining why she couldn’t appear before an assembly whose mandate has expired, the reconstituted cabinet and the president didn’t respond. The government and the president should tell the TNL leader that their mandate has expired and inform them about when the new legislative assembly would be reconstituted.
Sadly, there is a deafening silence even when the presidency knows the parliament is acting outside the agreement provisions.
Kuir ë Garang is the editor of The Philosophical Refugee. Follow him on twitter @kuirthiy