The minister of finance and commerce of the Republic of South Sudan, Aggrey Tisa Sabuni, says the political crisis that engulfed his country in the last couple of months is being contained by specific measures taken by the government. He also highlights the strides South Sudan has made in economic diversification.
In this interview with journalists during the conference of the African ministers of finance, which ended in Abuja recently, he stresses that inclusive industrialization of the continent, which was the cardinal objective of the conference, will be pursued vigorously by leaders of the continent. INNOCENT ODOH was there.
What in proper context would you say is the advantage of the African conference of ministers of finance you had in Abuja?
Thank you very much members of the press, this is my first visit to Nigeria but I already feel as if I am a Nigerian. The hospitality, the smiling faces, the warmth is extremely encouraging. The Nigerians are very sociable and well meaning people. This visit has confirmed that. I travelled to Nigeria in my capacity as minister of finance, economy and economic development of the Republic of South Sudan.
It was a meeting that brought together practically all the finance ministers of the continent to Abuja , courtesy of the kind invitation of Madam Ngozi Okojo Iweala. The meeting was jointly organised by the government of Nigeria, the Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Union, to discuss a very important issue. This is of course one of annual meetings but this time round the conference was discussing how to industrialize Africa in a way that transforms the lives of the populace and the lives of the people of Africa in very inclusive manner.
This is a very useful concept, very useful idea. The meeting was well organised and professionally conducted. The materials that came out I can assure you is well verse. There is every indication that the finance ministers together with technocratic support staff mean what they said and what they put down. We will ensure that a follow up is made in order to implement these things on ground.
South Sudan has been making some strides in economic development but suddenly the crisis in South Sudan has put a stall to that economic development. What is your reaction to this?
South Sudan is a land that is blessed with a lot of resources, the land itself is very huge, carrying only a population of 10 million people with a lot of arable land that is yet to be tapped, that is yet to be converted into food and many other products. We have a lot of water resources, a lot of fish teeming in the waters waiting to be exploited. We have practically put in place the structures and the right climate in order to invite investors from around the world including Nigeria, to come over and exploit those resources.
That was what we were doing, and then we got into this unfortunate situation where brother disagreed with brother and sister disagreed with sister and then put us into loggerheads with each other. But with all the abundance of goodwill and support from the neighbouring countries, and countries as far as Nigeria, we are doing everything possible to contain the situation so that we get out of it and forge ahead with the actual process of developing the country, developing the economy and serving the people.
What are the specific things you have done to woo investors to South Sudan?
We have come up with relevant legislative pieces to make it easy to register a company in South Sudan, and to register a branch of a company that already exists. We have made it easy with a law that makes lot of concessions. A process, which would otherwise involve three or four agencies running up and down, is done in one place where we call one stop shop. These are some of the conditions we prepared. South Sudan is administered on a decentralized basis with governments under it.
We have counties and so on and so forth. The governance in those states and the staff are already sensitized to receive any possible investors to invest in anything. Land is already an essential ingredient and that is a commodity that we have in abundance. So the governors are ready to give the land, we need the investors to come with their talent, their capital and their knowhow.
Where we have capacity limitations I think we have the Nigerians, the Ugandans, the Kenyans to initially provide the technical expertise, sourcing skilled labour from within in Africa not only solving the issue of employment but also getting somebody who is relevant, who knows the African context and the African mentality..
With oil being the major foreign revenue of South Sudan, what strategy are you putting in place to ensure that your country does not suffer the ‘oil curse’ that other oil- rich countries in Africa such as Nigeria and Congo-DR are suffering ?
You are absolutely right, I am afraid South Sudan is already traveling the Nigerian way especially what we call the ‘Dutch Disease’ as well as the ‘resource curse’, but we are putting in place measures to diversify the revenue sources as well as the production avenues. We are now rediscovering our agricultural base, which is the basic aspect of economy. We are now telling everybody to go back to the land to produce for family sufficiency as well as export to the local market and abroad. We are diversifying away from oil to agriculture, diversifying to the hospitality industry, and diversifying to infrastructure. That is what the whole meeting has been about here in Abuja. So the answer lies in serious diversification.
The Council of Ministers in South Sudan approved a budget plan for 2014/2015 financial year. Now what areas will this approved budget plan cover especially given the current crisis situation in your country?
That budget plan was presented by me and the budget plan prioritizes the delivery of services to the people in the form of clean drinking water, in the form of educational services, in the form of health services, in the form of food security through agricultural production. These are done in the context of a minimum amount of road connectivity. We need to have the roads in order to guarantee agricultural production, accessibility to farms through feeder roads, access roads and so on. So those are the priorities and of course we need to guarantee security. There must be a minimum amount of road network, food security, water, health and education. We want to concentrate on these because we cannot do everything at a go. There are other things that are useful which can be done at a later stage.
How would this approved budget plan enhance the collection of non-oil revenue in South Sudan?
Yes, non -oil revenue is an area we neglected earlier on but now we are coming back to make sure that we improve the capacity of the directorate of taxation, which primarily collects taxes. We want to improve the capacity of customs administration and improve the capacity of other agencies that are charged with the responsibility of collecting what we call user fees.
It is not enough to collect fees but making sure that what is collected is actually remitted to the national treasury. So capacity creation, creating enabling environment for the agencies that are charged with the responsibility of collecting non- oil revenues remain our priority because that is where the future of South Sudan lies rather than on oil or depletable natural resources.