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Rumbek - 30 May 2023

Opposition decries poor working relations with SPLM in Lakes State government

Members of opposition parties who hold ministerial positions in the Lakes State government have said they have poor working relations and constrained communication with their SPLM party counterparts due to a lack of political will on the part of the latter.

Some of the ministers from opposition outfits say they have only continued to work for the sake of peace and because they are sons and daughters of the state.

An SPLM party member in the state cabinet however rubbished the claims and says they work well together under the governor’s slogan “Lakes State First.”

However, Beny Matur Mathiang, the SPLM-IO nominated peacebuilding minister in Lakes State, told Radio Tamazuj Monday that there is no proper political working relationship and corresponding communication in the state government.

“We are working as a team and as citizens, although there are challenges, they cannot prevent us from working together as sons and daughters of Lakes State to maintain peace among the communities,” he says.

Minister Matur alludes to the fact that many clauses in the agreement have seldom been implemented in the state.

“We are supposed to share some responsibilities in the municipality and other areas and these positions were supposed to be shared as it was agreed in the previous Governor's Forum in 2021. Up to now, it has not been implemented by the governor,” he says. “Those institutions which were created under the revitalized peace agreement are not working well and they have never been fully established because budgets do not allow. However, I do not want to say it is lack of budget but the unwillingness of the state government.”

“If there is political will, they should be established,” Matur adds.

He says that six state government institutions have never been established and that even the peacebuilding ministry is not yet fully constituted and is one of the most neglected ministries and does not have a sufficient budget to carry out its mandate.

“In the peacebuilding ministry, it is just a minister and the director general but other directors are not there,” he explains.

To show the scale of the disconnect in the government, Matur narrates that the state health minister suspended his director general for wrongdoing but that Governor Riny Tuen Mabor overruled him and reinstated the interdicted director general of health.

“There is nowhere in the world or in the constitution where a director general resisted the suspension by the minister. The minister of health suspended the director general and the governor refused to accept the suspension by the minister concerned and instead decided to reinstate the suspended director general,” he recounts. “We should blame the governor and it is his failure by sabotaging because there is nowhere the order of the minister is suppressed by the director general.”

“We can say it is SPLM party but it is the same government sabotaging itself because the government is under the leadership of the governor and if there is a failure, it should be counted on the governor and we should say it is the government itself in Lakes State,” Minister Matur charges.

He reiterates that there is no proper working relationship.

Meanwhile, Philip Taban Chir, the minister of cooperatives and rural development in Lakes state who belongs to the Other Political Parties (OPP), echoes the sentiments of his colleague, Matur.

He said there are a lot of challenges facing the representatives of other political parties like lack of mobility for ministers and lack of sufficient budget to pay for the salaries of civil servants.

He urges the signatories of the peace agreement to implement the Roadmap without further extension of the transitional period to allow people to vote for their preferred leaders at the end of 2024.

“Our president used to say that he is fully committed to implementing all the provisions of the peace agreement and the Roadmap. Lakes State is peaceful and the government is working although there are hiccups but we shall continue working because there are challenges in every working environment,” he says. “We do not have enough cars and some ministers are footing and we also do not have enough money for work and service delivery. Our civil servants are also not paid well yet prices in the market are very high.”

On his part, William Koji Kirjok, the acting information minister who is also the substantive minister of culture youth, and sports, however, says the representatives of the different parties are working smoothly in the state government.  

“In Lakes State, we are working as a government with the political parties and we are managing the affairs of Lakes State and do not have issues as SPLM, SPLM-IO, or OPP. We are being guided by the governor’s slogan of “Lakes State First,” he says. “The slogan does not allow anyone to do something contrary and we have to be guided by it whether you are from another political party or the SPLM party.”

“Secondly, we are also working together as sons and daughters of Lakes State and I have never seen anyone from another political party protesting against the SPLM party,” he adds.

According to Minister Koji, the governor is currently in Juba and the deputy governor who is an SPLM-IO member is the one in charge, and all officials report to him.

“Lakes State is not like other states where other opposition members complain against the SPLM. Here the political parties have their motions discussed and passed freely without threats or intimidation,” he says. “What happened between the minister and the director general of the ministry of health was an administrative issue and it has been addressed by the governor administratively and the two of them are now working together normally.”

However, when contacted, Daniel Laat Kon, a civil society activist in Lakes State, said the political space in the state is shrinking.

He says that when SPLM-IO opened its secretariat last year, its members were detained yet the SPLM party freely carries out activities.

“Other political parties are also not carrying out activities,” Laat says. “The current acting governor who is SPLM-IO does not even have a right to use Lakes State flag on his motorcade in absence of Governor Rin Tueny, leave alone SPLM ministers reporting or listening to him.”

“There is a shrinking political space,” he concludes.