NCRC Chairperson Dr. Riang Yer Zuor talking to Radio Tamazuj in his office in Juba. (Photo: Radio Tamazuj)

Q&A: ‘There must be a constitution in place to guide the elections’-NCRC Chairperson

Dr. Riang Yer Zuor, the Chairperson of the National Constitutional Review Commission (NCRC), has said that it is imperative that a constitution is promulgated and in place to guide the forthcoming elections as stipulated by the revitalized peace agreement.

Dr. Riang Yer Zuor, the Chairperson of the National Constitutional Review Commission (NDRC), has said that it is imperative that a constitution is promulgated and in place to guide the forthcoming elections as stipulated by the revitalized peace agreement.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, the NCRC head also said the entity has not yet received any funds from the government to commence its work but is engaged in preliminary preparations to undertake its mandate. Among other contentious issues, he also says that as a technical institution, NCRC cannot decide on whether the tenure of the current government is extended or if elections should be held under a new constitution.

Below are edited excerpts:

Question: Hon. Riang, could you update the public on the latest developments regarding the constitutional-making process?

Answer: Here at the NCRC, we have been working on several things that are administrative and preparatory.

The actual work of the constitution-making process has not yet started in terms of us going to the field for civic education and public consultations to collect views from the people of South Sudan that would form the basis of the first draft of the constitution text and delay is because of lack of funding for the commission to carry out those activities. As soon as we receive the funding we will just hit the road to do what is necessary.

We are prepared and we are just waiting for the work to start.

Q: Could you tell the public about the main functions and mandate of the National Constitutional Review Commission?

A: The mandate of the NCRC is to guide and facilitate the constitution-making process. The process has several mechanisms that are collaboratively working but then NCRC is the one of the main that is facilitating the activities of those other four mechanisms because there are five mechanisms in total.

Our function as I indicated a little earlier includes conducting a nationwide civic education for the people of South Sudan on constitution making process and collecting views from the people on constitutional issues through public consultation forums then there are several other functions but these are the main ones

Q: Recently, the Political Parties Council and the National Elections Commission announced that they received some funds to kick-start their activities. Has the NCRC received some funds to carry out its activities?

A: As just I indicated to you, the reason why we are not going to the field is because of a lack of funding. So far, we have not yet received anything from the government but the budget has been submitted and the council of ministers has approved it but it is going to finally be approved by the legislature. However, until then, we will continue not having any funding.

Yes, there have been statements on the public media that NEC and PPC have received some money from the government, we heard about it and it seems to be true, but for one reason or another, we have been excluded from that funding so we have not yet received any funding.

Q: What is the amount of the budget you submitted?

A: The budget in total for all the five mechanisms is 43 million U.S. dollars. For budgeting, we have been advised to divide our work into two phases and for the current phase it is half of that that is approved, then we will get the rest from the government in the next financial year which begins in July.

Q: How long will it take to complete the constitution once you receive the necessary funds?

A: Well, a constitution-making process does not have one formula that one could use to determine the amount of time it will take. It depends on the specific situation of a specific country but for the work that we have been asked to do, we sat and we have determined a timeframe of 18 months to complete the process. Those 18 months begin from when funding becomes available and depend on whether or not the process gets interrupted in terms of funding otherwise it could go to more than 18 months. We believe that if we are funded and there is no interruption it will take us only 18 months to complete

Q: Do you think it is important that the constitution is done before elections? Some people argue that it is not important to link the constitution with the upcoming elections in December. What do you say about this?

A: That is a political question that can only be best answered by the political leadership but as far as the agreement is concerned, there must be a constitution in place to guide the elections. The peace agreement specifically talks of the mandate of the unity government to initiate and oversee a constitution-making process and that it be completed before the end of the transitional period so that elections can be done.

It also talks of the National Elections Commission organizing elections sixty days before the end of the transition based on a permanent constitution. In chapter six, the agreement also talks about the constitution being placed first to guide the elections, so those are the provisions of the agreement that are in place demanding that there must be a constitution before elections can take place. However, whether you go by it or not can only be determined by the political parties that are party to the agreement.

Q: Does the NCRC have permanent premises or are you renting?

The current premises that we are using belongs to the government, specifically to the judiciary which has given it to the NCRC to conduct its activities, so we are not renting.

Question: How many technical staff do you have to carry out the work and what are the challenges you are facing?

A: Currently, our main challenges are administrative and include the hiring of staff that would be working with us to assist us with the process but because of lack of funding, we have not done that and we can say that we are very much understaffed when it comes to technical staff. As soon as we get funding it will cease to be an issue.

Question: How many staff do you have currently?

A: Currently, we have about five at the secretariat, and in total, we need about 27 but we cannot hire people when we do not have money to pay so we have to wait until we can pay them.

Q: The peace agreement talks of a federal system of governance. What type of federalism are you working to shape now?

Answer: The agreement is specific about federalism as the post-transition system of governance that has already been agreed but then the agreement does not talk about the type that has been shaped as of now but it is something that the people of South Sudan will help in shaping. So, we will go to the people of South Sudan and present the alternatives and then we see which one of the alternatives is most attractive to the people of South Sudan and that will be adopted.

Q: What about the land issue, will the process tackle issues related to the land?

A: Land is a national economic resource that is of importance and as of late it has become an issue especially when you live in Juba and its surroundings. People talk of land grabbing and even though it is not widespread throughout the country, it is an issue that will one day spread all over the country, and as such it is an issue that must be tackled by the constitution. When we go to the people of South Sudan for public consultations, it will be one of the issues to be addressed.

Q: How will NCRC make sure that the constitution-making process is inclusive?

A: The process has been prescribed first by the agreement then the Constitution-making Process Act which will tell you exactly which people are to be involved. It is said to be a people-led process and you achieve that through several things; first by conducting civic education exercises just to inform the people of the issues so that when they decide they know what they want, secondly, the public consultations exercise will be conducted so that views of the people of South Sudan are collected countrywide, the third way of including the people of South Sudan is through national constitution conference where all the sectors of the South Sudanese society will be represented to deliberate on the first draft of the constitution text this what is called inclusivity in the agreement

But for others, it talks about refugees and IDPs which means that we will go out of the country to collect views of the people of South Sudan who are living in foreign countries as refugees so they will also be included.

Q: Are you planning to involve those who are still holding arms against the government?

A: Not really. The only way that we can involve them is if they sign an agreement with the government and they join the transitional national government. Other than that, there are no formulae described by the agreement in the law to involve those who are holding arms against the government.

Q: As a technical person, what advice can you give the parties that are now debating whether to extend the tenure of the current government or hold elections in December?

A: As a technical institution, NCRC is not in a position to take any position on those issues of whether to extend or to hold the election without the new constitution. All that we can say is that as per the agreement, elections are to be conducted by the new constitution and if they come to us and ask how long it will take to complete the new constitution we will tell them what I just told you that we have a timeline that is of 18 months for us to complete. They will consider that to make their final decision.

If they decide to go for elections without the constitution it will be a political decision for them to make and that entails going to amend the agreement to allow the government to amend the agreement to provide for elections under the current constitution. If they decide that the elections should wait until the new constitution comes into effect, then they will decide to extend.

So, we cannot take a position to advise them on what to do but we can just tell them the facts as provided in the agreement and how long it will take for us to complete the process of the constitution-making process.

Q: Finally, what is your message to the government, and people of South Sudan?

A: My message to the government is that this constitution-making process is a government responsibility as such they must make sure that they avail resources to the commission so that it completes the process.

My message to the people of South Sudan is that the constitution-making process is a project under the agreement and the agreement demands that it must be led and owned by the people of South Sudan and as such they should prepare themselves to contribute so that the process is fully owned and led by the people. Their views will determine the type of constitution that we will have, that is the responsibility and they must live up to it.