National, News

Independence anniversary expenditure under question

By Gladys Fred Kole

A much-publicized independence celebration by Central Equatoria State government in Kajo-Keji County was marred by ambiguous spending, twisting the occasion to lose its meaning, especially for returnees.

In early June, the Central Equatoria governor decreed a high-level committee, tasked with organizing a state occasion in Kajo-Keji County to celebrate the 12th anniversary of South Sudan’s Independence.

A decision warmly welcomed by the Kajo-Keji Community Organization (KKCO), who believed the occasion would instill hope in returnees, expecting them to rebuild their lives at home.

But returnees who were lured from the refugee camp purposely for the independence occasion were left struggling to come to terms with the meaning of a celebration called for by the state government.

Many of the returnee spent days on empty stomach as nobody bothered to take care of their interest.

Speaking to No. 1 Citizen Daily Newspaper some of the returnees couldn’t hide their frustration and disbelief as the complained that their last two days in Kajo-Keji, were horrible.

Khemis Amos is one of the returnees who dashed from the refugee camp to attend the state event marking the country’s 12th independence anniversary because of his love for his home.

Despite the lack of transport, Amos said they trekked all the way from the refugee camp just to come and celebrate and feel the chanted peace back home, with the hope of returning soon.

However, he decried hunger and thirst.

The occasion couldn’t offer the jubilant crowd that gathered at Kajo-Keji Freedom Square on July 9, 2023, particularly common citizens, mere drinking water to quench their thirst.

One local resident, Mary Yawa, who also joined the occasion, acknowledged the hard situation they faced during the event, especially those who came from the camp.

“Some of our people who have gone hungry in Kajo-Keji for the last two days have a reason to complain,” she pitied.

“We understand things are hard, but they (the government) should have fixed something little for the locals who have travelled all the way home for the celebrations.” Mary hinted.

The committee was headed by the state Advisor for Gender, child, and social welfare, as Chairperson, and the commissioner of Kajo-Keji County, as secretary general.

And according to sources, the state government had earmarked a budget of one hundred million South Sudanese pounds for the event. But that figure was never heard from the committee leadership.

A well-placed source, who, we only refer to as Peter, (not his real name), talking to this outlet on condition of anonymity slammed the organizing committee for misappropriation.

“We have the tradition of not respecting budget lines. 100 million was the proposed budget, but it was only 40 million that was received on the ground,” Peter said.

He accused some members of squandering the money for their sideline parties, such as birthday celebrations, adding that the money in the budget ended up benefiting the people with interest.

“Some of our colleagues, instead of funding government program, like funding partying programs,” Peter alleged.

“If it is 100 million and 40 are unveiled, then where is the other money? They like sandwiching party programs with government funding; we don’t think of development,” he critiqued.

According to Peter, the independence program in Kajo-Keji was highly politicized.

“Why would you think you budget for $100 million, and you chop another million out of the money to deprive the other program of the independence, and then a day after the independence you have a party program? Where else do you get that money?” he questioned.

Peter claimed that some of these individuals within the organizing committees must have undoubtedly embezzled the money, saying that was just the truth.

He also acknowledged the fact that some of the local community members had gone hungry for two days with nothing to eat.

Mawa A. Moses is the co-chair of the state high-level organizing committee.

Mawa, who is also the State Minister of Roads and Bridges, told this outlet that they have been faced with inadequate financing for the occasion.

“We all know that the country is going through an economic crisis; hence, we are faced with a huge financial challenge,” he said.

“In terms of budget, we had come up with a proposed budget of about 86 million for this occasion simply because of the element of transportation from Juba. It was not easy, but at the end of the day we were able to receive 64 million,” Mawa, the committee deputy chair, disclosed.

According to him, much of the money that was allocated in the budget went for the hire of airplanes to transport people from Juba to Kajo-Keji and back to Juba.

Although transport is claimed to have taken a lion’s share of the budget, it was the top officials who boarded aircraft to Kajo-Keji, and the majority travelled by land in a convoy via Nimule Road.

No. 1 Citizen Daily Newspaper also established that a fleet of over 50 boda-boda riders hailing from Kajo-Keji were mobilized at the level of the community organization spearheaded by the Kajo-Keji County Youth Association (KKYA) coordination office in Juba.

But the group didn’t receive a single pound from the state budget, thanks to well-wishers who contributed money to fuel the bikes for the long ride.

Mawa acknowledged that most people also travelled to Kajo-Keji by road, though the roads were not in very good shape.

Meanwhile, some development partners, like Fin Church Aid, provided vehicles for three days of logistical facilitation, printed 1,000 t-shirts for the traditional dance groups, and 10 banners.

TS Construction Company also hired two aircraft to transport people from Juba to Kajo-Keji, and Standard Bar and Restaurant in Juba donated 50 cartons of drinking water for the occasion, Mawa noted.



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