No permanent constitution in South Sudan before 2015: bill
South Sudan’s legislature is considering a bill that would extend the constitutional review and approval process until as late as mid-2015, following the expiry last month of the review commission’s mandate.
The country’s transitional constitution was ratified on 7 July 2011 and came into force two days later, independence day. It replaced the interim constitution that had been in force since 2005 during the period of semi-autonomy.
The National Constitutional Review Commission was appointed by the president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and was tasked with submitting a draft constitutional text and explanatory report to the president within one year of its formation – a job not completed.
John Luk Jok, the justice minister, explained in a note to the legislature last week that the commission ran into problems including “lack of funds, logistical problems and lack of an appropriate working environment.”
The justice minister has proposed to extend the commission’s mandate until 10 September 2013, modifying article 202 (10) of the constitution to that effect. But he has also asked the legislature to reduce the time allowed to the National Constitutional Conference (NCC), which should follow the commission’s work.
According to the minister’s proposal, tabled as the Transitional Constitution Amendment Bill, the Constitutional Conference will commence sometime after the September 2013 deadline, “as soon as it receives the Draft Constitutional Text and Explanatory Report from the president.” It will have three months to deliberate and adopt the text. This represents a revision of article 202(3)(e), which had given the conference six months, making the deadline for the conference’s submission 10 December 2013 at the earliest.
Explaining this change, the minister envisioned a more limited role for the NCC compared to the original drafting commission, saying the commission would have to “organize and manage a wider-ranging national debate involving civic education,” whereas the conference would merely be a deliberative body of a more technical nature focusing on “content, structure and wording.”
After the NCC submits its draft text to the president, the president would cause it to be tabled before the National Legislature “at least six months before the end of the Transitional Period, for deliberation and adoption within three months,” according to the proposed amendment.
The date for final adoption of the permanent constitution would thus be three months before the end of the Transitional Period. Nowhere in the constitution, however, is “Transitional Period” clearly defined. This means that in the bill now before parliament there is no explicit date for adoption of the permanent constitution.
Presumably, however, it would have to be before the end of the mandate of the president and legislature, July 8, 2015; and with three months required for the legislature to deliberate, that would put a deadline for adoption of the permanent constitution in April 2015 at the latest.
Last Friday, 15 February, the assembly’s justice and constitution committee held a public hearing on the proposed amendment. MPs, commission members and members of the public speaking at the open hearing expressed a variety of concerns. Some noted that although the legislature had allocated budget for the activities of the review commission, the finance ministry had not disbursed to the commission the allocated funds.
Others expressed reservations that the extension period until September would not be long enough. The elections chairman, for example, proposed a period of two years, while the chairman of the national bar association said it would be better not to have any time limit.
Also under discussion was whether the president should be given power to restructure the commission, possibly reducing the number of members.