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By James Gatdet Dak - 9 Feb 2020

Opinion | Reforms in South Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs

I hope South Sudan’s "iron lady", the current minister of foreign affairs, Awut Deng Acuil, has begun to voluntarily introduce and vigorously and fairly implement reforms in her institution, by also weeding out unqualified employees in all the embassies and diplomatic missions of the Republic of South Sudan, across the globe.

I am saying this because when minister Awut was the minister of labour and public service before the war broke out in 2013---and while I was a member of the Secretariat sitting in the cabinet meetings--- I watched her one day lamenting as she was presenting to the cabinet (chaired by President Kiir), a bunch of applicants’ papers seeking employment in senior civil service positions in various institutions of government.

Minister Awut told the cabinet that she was shocked by the fact that many of those who claimed to be holding Bachelors, Masters, and even PhDs certificates, could not write or speak English well; and could not, therefore, express themselves well, or could not explain to committees at the ministry their field of study or relevance to employment in a particular area. She said this happened although the majority of the applicants indicated they went to school in English-speaking countries abroad.

To her, she was concerned that most of the certificates were either fake, or were not thoroughly studied or obtained by those who held them, but were, maybe, worked out by hired persons or paid professors who did their assignments and wrote for them thesis or dissertation.

And I loved it whenever Awut spoke in the cabinet meetings because her tone and body language could easily make one feel the gravity of the situation she was presenting to the cabinet. I felt so sympathetic to her lamentation and the situation she found herself in!

Then I said to myself, wait a minute!

How could we blame many of those poor students who, if true, faked Bachelors, Masters or PhDs certificates in a country, South Sudan, where people are employed mainly based on who you know, rather than on what you know?

It is also coupled with the mindset that people love big titles of doing nothing but eat, rather than small titles of doing something with a positive impact.

So the fake Masters or PhDs, if they truly existed, were meant, I believed, to raise the chance of overriding the "who you know" discriminatory silent system being practised in the public institutions.

Now, in 2020, however, I thought the minister should not wait for the official reform agenda, per the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS), to first kick in during the upcoming revitalized transitional government of national unity, given her past experience.

She should start it with her institution now. And for God’s sake, make ambassadors or staff of embassies or missions to fairly represent the diverse faces of the people of South Sudan.

This should be the case in the upcoming transitional government, by whoever who will be the minister of foreign affairs, etc.

Also employ genuine diploma holders, who are talented, or at least have the know-how in what they want to do; or who can quickly adapt to the system of government, or express themselves easily.

The ministry of foreign affairs should be exemplary among other institutions in our country, by employing citizens based on merits, rather than employing on average, based on being tribal fellow men and women, or sons and daughters of so and so, and holders of some fake Masters and PhDs, who do not understand the ABCs.

Qualifications and experiences matter most as they produce an effective, efficient and productive workforce that can deliver.

And, again, consider the diversity of our people!

The same goes for all the other institutions too.

And, we in the opposition are also coming home soon with the overall reform agenda!

May God bless our beloved country, South Sudan, and its beautiful people!

The author is former Press Secretary in the Office of the President (Vice President’s office) and former Official Spokesman of the leadership of the SPLM/SPLA (IO). He is also the author of a testimonial book, ‘My Painful Story, Abducted from Kenya, Imprisoned in South Sudan'.

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