Oyet Nathaniel, First Deputy Speaker of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, speaking to Radio Tamazuj on Saturday, May 27, 2023. (Radio Tamazuj)

INTERVIEW: Oyet speaks on peace challenges, parliament’s oversight role

The First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Oyet Nathaniel, warned some ministers against snubbing summons by lawmakers, saying measures will be taken against any official refusing to appear before the assembly.

The First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Oyet Nathaniel, warned some ministers against snubbing summons by lawmakers, saying measures will be taken against any official refusing to appear before the assembly.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, Oyet, who is also the deputy chairman of the opposition SPLM-IO, said that his party will not agree to any further extension of the peace agreement after the end of the current transition in December 2024.

Below are edited excerpts:

Q: We have noticed that some ministers ignore the summons by Parliament. What is the parliament leadership doing about it? 

A:  Yes, the August House has indeed been summoning a number of cabinet ministers to appear before it to give statements on urgent and critical matters of public importance. So, some ministers normally appear and others do not appear. Some give excuses for not appearing if they are attending to some unavoidable schedules of their offices, like attending Council of Ministers meetings or attending cluster meetings like the latest excuse we got from the minister of justice who was busy making a presentation in the ministerial cluster meeting. I think the other ministers are willfully avoiding the summons of the August House. One of the ministers is the National Minister of National Security. He has never appeared before the August House.

He was the last person summoned in relation to the situation in Sudan, which is affecting the humanitarian, political and security situation in South Sudan. So, he did not come, and Parliament takes it very seriously that there is nobody above the law, and Parliament has the absolute mandate to oversee the performance of all the ministries and government institutions without exception. So, no minister has the privilege to abscond from the Parliament’s summon. Parliament can decide on any minister once it deems it necessary. You know, Parliament can punish any minister that does not want to comply with the summons.

Q: What are some of the likely punishments for the ministers who ignore the summons by the MPs?

A: The punishment that the Parliament can impose is to give a warning to a minister and again summon him to appear. In case of repeated contempt of Parliament, the Parliament can decide to impeach the minister from office for contempt of Parliament.

Q: Honourable Oyet, you have just mentioned Minister of National Security Obuto Mamur. What measures will be taken against him?

 A: We will first resummon him. If he does not appear, we issue a warning with another summon. If he does not appear, then that one will evoke the impeachment powers of the August House.

Q: Recently, the Speaker suspended SPLM-IO MP Juol Nhomngek. Why is the SPLM-IO leadership silent about it?

A: First of all, the suspension of the Honourable Juol Nhomngek came as a result of a long process. The investigation process was done twice. It was an allegation of corruption and graft and things like that. In the first case, Juol was asked by the investigation committee to produce evidence of all the allegations he levelled against the Speaker, but he could not do. In the second case also, he was summoned and asked to produce evidence, but he also could not do. In fact, he appeared before the investigation committee after the third summon. In the first summon, he did not appear, he refused. In the second summon, he also declined. In the third summon when the committee threatened to proceed with a report if he doesn’t appear, then he appeared and when he appeared, he refused to recognize the committee, and the meeting could not go ahead. The investigation committee then rendered the report with notice that the honourable member failed to prove all the allegations he levelled against the Speaker. These allegations of corruption, first of all, is a criminal matter. Corrupt practices are punishable according to the laws of South Sudan.

We do not associate as a party. SPLM-IO, as a party, does not condone corruption. If you allege such practices, you must be able to give evidence. The burden of proof rest on the one who alleges and should not be defamation if you prove that so and so is corrupt because of A, B, C, D. It can never be defamation, but if you fail to prove it makes it a defamation case because if you are spoiling another person’s name without any prove, SPLM-IO party cannot come out publically to either condemn the suspension or endorse the suspension.

The party wants to get the truth out of it. If Honourable Juol has evidence, he has the liberty and the privilege of giving the evidence to the leadership of SPLM-IO. If he had given the evidence to the leadership of SPLM-IO and SPLM-IO is convinced that this evidence is credible, then SPLM-IO can come out, but without that, it would be very difficult for us to come out with either condemnation or support. So, we are waiting for Juol to substantiate the allegations he levelled against the Speaker.

Q: Honourable Oyet, don’t you think that the suspension of Honourable Juol could affect your votes as opposition MPs?

 A: Well, it will not affect much. Why am I saying that? The decision-making in the legislature is by consensus, not by numbers. Most of the things we do here are by consensus, so the majority does not count, but building consensus by parties to the agreement is the one that we are using most. But if we fail to build consensus, then people will go to vote on a particular matter, but since we were reconstituted, there has been no voting because we are using the mechanism of consensus, so the absence cannot affect much.

Q: Is SPLM-IO also planning to investigate MP Juol at the party level?

A: SPLM-O did not condemn or support the suspension of the Honourable member. We can only take a position if we are convinced that there is evidence of the allegations then we can take a position. If there is no evidence, the suspension stands.

Q: Do you mean MP Juol has to carry his own cross if there is no evidence?

A: What I meant here is that we are a law-abiding institution, and SPLM-IO is a law-abiding organization. If you allege something, you must be sure. So, our members are not living on an island; they live in the community, in our society, where there are other citizens they interact with. We want them to interact with citizens while they are conscious of the law that regulates relations between individuals and other individuals. They can enjoy full rights and freedom to the extent the law allows. They cannot go beyond the law.

The point of carrying his own cross, I do not want to talk in terms of that, but every citizen has rights, freedoms and responsibility towards others. We do not expect our rights to be violated. We also do not expect our members to violate the rights of others. This is what I can say. So, he has all the avenues to seek redress, whether in the court, local court or regional court.

Q: As a deputy chairman of SPLM-IO, could you update the public about the steps taken so far to break the deadlock over the firing of the defense minister and the swapping of two ministries in February?

A: We have not agreed with the SPLM-IG on the swapping of the ministries. First of all, it was a violation. What Honourable Michael Chiangjiek said in the RJMEC plenary meeting recently that we have agreed on the swapping of the ministries is wishful thinking. We have not agreed on the swapping of the ministries. However, we said we are open to discussion with the SPLM-IG, and we are still waiting.

Discussions had commenced on the matter before the rapture in Sudan, where Sudan is also the chair of IGAD. So, Sudan was helping to facilitate communication and negotiation between the two parties to resolve the matter but now they are embroiled in a civil war, and they cannot exercise their mediation role as chair of IGAD. However, we have written to IGAD member states seeking their good offices to facilitate the resolution of the conflict on the question of the swapping and the dismissal of the minister of defense. This is what we are waiting for, so whatever stories being peddled by Honourable Chiangjiek is wishful thinking, and we are not a party to it.

Q: There is also a deadlock over the military command structure. What is the main point of disagreement?

A: Our list is ready; the list of our command is ready. The only thing delaying the submission of the list is the failure to agree on the command sharing in the unified forces. We had earlier agreed that SPLM-IO would constitute at least 40 percent.

At least 40 percent of the command sharing in all the forces, the SPLM-IG wants to renege on the agreement in the command sharing; that is why we say we must agree first on the command sharing for all the unified forces.

Q: Honourable Oyet, residents of Juba City are complaining about the high cost of electricity. Why is Parliament silent about it?

A: The motion that we have now is on the general rise in the prices of commodities, including electricity, and this motion is going to be tabled next week. So this will require the appearance of the relevant ministers, finance, trade, investment and national revenue authority, even electricity.

 So, this is the motion that is at hand. In fact, the alarming rise in prices and the alarming depreciation of the value of the South Sudanese Pound is disheartening, and Parliament is very concerned about that and in the motion that will be raised, we will summon the relevant authorities to appear.

Q: Common citizens do not believe that the current Parliament can play an oversight role. What is your response?

A: This is a new parliament, this is not a rubber stamp, and we will summon any minister to appear before the Parliament once we have issues.

Q: South Sudanese are frustrated because there is no progress in the implementation of the peace agreement. What is going on?

A: Yes. It is very slow. The roadmap implementation is not different from the implementation of the peace agreement. We have been seeing over the last three years, there has been a slow pace. Sometimes there is a stalemate. Up to now, we have not completed the formation of the government because the independent institutions are not even reconstituted and appointed. We only have the executive, the council of ministers of the revitalised unity government, and the independent institutions that are the implementing agencies of the government that are very critical in the running of any government, are not reconstituted. They are not operating according to the law, and according to the agreement, even the national elections commission is not reconstituted. You cannot tell what they are doing. The national constitution review commission is not reconstituted and all others.

Last August, the roadmap was signed and we thought we will now move at a speedy pace, but unfortunately, the same scenario of the last three years of the transitional period. This one casts a lot of worries and doubts on the prospects for elections, especially if critical tasks relating to elections cannot be implemented prior to elections. The election is not an event; it is a process. By now, we should be working towards the holding of the elections, the census, and the permanent constitution-making process, which will come with a new system of government, and census will lead to the demarcation of geographical constituencies and estimation of the number of voters for the country, repatriation and resettlement of refugees and IDPs. Security arrangements are also outstanding. When we say security arrangements, we are not only talking about the deployment of the forces but also the DDR. We do not want our citizens to go for elections when they are armed. There should be disarmament for the civilians who are armed. So, all these are outstanding, and the prospect of holding elections is in the balance.

Q: What has been hindering the parties from implementing the peace agreement which is the only hope in the country?

A: There is no political will. If you have the political will, you can move mountains, you can level mountains with the political will, and you can create roads where there are no roads and build bridges to connect land.  Other things do not require funds like announcing the reconstitution of the independent institutions. On our side, we feel there is no political will to do it. If there was political will to do it, then why is it delayed? The government is incomplete and the agreement on the unified command has been dragging because of political matters and other violations that affect the implementation process, like the dismissal of the defense minister and the unilateral swapping of the ministries. Instead of proceeding with the implementation of the provisions, we are even undoing those that we have put in place.

Q: If crucial provisions of the agreement remain unimplemented, are you ready for a further extension of the deal in December 2024?

A: After the end of the current roadmap, we don’t buy any idea of further extension for the roadmap or the transitional period, that is why we are telling our partners in the agreement that we should expedite the implementation of the peace agreement which is the only way that will enable us to end the transitional period and hold elections on time. But now things have been moving very slowly the way they have been moving during the past three years transitional period.

Now this will affect the quality of whatever elections that will be held in this country. Whether South Sudan will be stable during and after the elections or not will depend on what we do now. And another thing is the position that we firmly hold, as a party, is that we do not buy any idea of any further extension of the agreement.  Thank you.