Federal system of governance with reference to South Sudan

By Dr. Jacob K. Lupai

A federal system of governance, when taken in a broad sense, refers to configurations of power. It covers all possible configurations of authority where it is not possible to concentrate all the power within a single authority. The federal system of governance is, therefore, about the in-between configurations of authority.

The federal system of governance is about any form of diffusion of power in contrast to centralization of power. There have been reactions to excessive centralization that have led to demands for greater responsibilities and resources for state or local government. This clearly suggests a demand for a federal system of governance.

In a federal system of governance distribution of powers and responsibilities are explicitly and implicitly exclusive, concurrent or shared in the constitution. A federal system shows that a government is best when it governs the least and, therefore, only limited functions are given to the central (federal) government. A government may be seen best when it is able to bring about social transformation.

According to the African Development Bank, one development challenge South Sudan faces is poor economic and social infrastructure, limiting economic productivity and diversification. The African Development Bank has suggested that the challenge is to move to a system that takes the power of decision-making closer to citizens. This clearly seems to suggest that federalism as a system of devolution of powers to lower levels of government takes the power of decision-making closer to the people at the grassroots who may best know their felt needs for development. However, in the observation of the African Development Bank, despite its development potential and resource endowment, South Sudan faces major economic challenges that may have negative impact.

According to one author, the centralized state on account of its many well-recognized failures has lost a great deal of legitimacy everywhere that decentralization of governance in the form of federalism is now widely believed to promise a range of benefits. This seems to confirm that the adoption of a federal system of governance will most likely promote development for the benefit of people.

With reference to South Sudan, the adoption of a federal system of governance will certainly bring benefits to the people in reducing acute poverty that is prevalent. With a system of three levels of government already existing, South Sudan can easily have a federal system of governance. The three levels of government that already exist are central, state and county administrations.

The geographic and demographic size of South Sudan and its diversity make the adoption of federal system of governance attractive for sustainable peace, harmony, prosperity and unity. However, rejection of a federal system of governance may be a recipe for disaster. South Sudan opted for independence from the Sudan because of the Arab’s stubborn refusal to accept the southern popular demand for a federal system of governance before and after the independence of the Sudan from the British rule.

In a federal arrangement powers and responsibilities are shared among the different levels of government. South Sudan may be expected to have three levels of government, namely central (federal), state and county (local) government. In division of powers and responsibilities, the central (federal) government may mainly focus on defence, foreign affairs, immigrations and nationality, federal supreme court, fiscal and monetary policy, coinage and currency, education and development policy, and interstate affairs.

At the state level of government, powers and responsibilities may include internal security, justice system, physical infrastructure development, education and research, utilities supply, subterranean resource development, non-subterranean resource development, and land management.

The county (local) government may have powers and responsibilities focusing on residential areas and roads, primary education, market areas and shops, amenities, and water and sanitation.

 As can be seen above, the powers and responsibilities at the central (federal) level of government are limited and are more of policy making. In contrast, the state and county (local) levels of government are seen as implementing agencies in pioneering development at the grassroots. It is important to note that powers and responsibilities at the various levels of government should be well articulated in the constitution so that interference by any level of government is minimized.

Development at any level of government does not occur in a vacuum. It occurs within the availability of adequate resources. This implies that sufficient resources must be made available to each and every level of government that has legitimate task to perform. This is about the effective and efficient provision of quality public services to the satisfaction of the people. This suggests equitable sharing of resources between the different levels of government in fulfilment of mandates.

There must be a design made of how taxing, spending and regulating functions are allocated between the different levels of government and how intergovernmental transfers are structured. These arrangements are of fundamental importance to the effective, efficient and equitable provision of the needed public services. It is, therefore, appropriate to have a formula of how revenues are shared among the different levels of government.

With reference to South Sudan, the formula of sharing all revenues generated may be that the central (federal) government gets 35 per cent, the state 45 and the county (local) government gets 20 per cent. No percentage of any subterranean resource found in any area should be given out as a bonus to the area concerned. This is because there is no guarantee that the percentage will not end up with individuals without any benefit to the community in the area.

What should happen is that a project to benefit the community in the area, where a subterranean resource is found, should be developed. This is because the shares of revenues distributed to the state and county governments seem to be more than enough to cover the project so developed. However, the formula should not be taken as a dogma but could be refined whenever appropriately and necessary to improve the delivery of public services in the face of possible challenges.

In conclusion, the adoption of a federal system of governance in South Sudan will most likely usher in an era of sustainable peace and prosperity for all.

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