Aid groups warn new bill will hamper assistance in South Sudan

South Sudan
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 2/06/16, 09:00 am

Lawmakers in South Sudan have passed a new bill that could limit the efforts of aid workers in the war-torn country.

The country’s Parliament passed a highly regulative Non-Governmental Organizations bill on Feb. 2, but it needs the signature of South Sudan President Salva Kiir before it can become law.

If passed, the bill will restrict the number of foreign workers to 20 percent for each organization. NGOs will be required to acquire registration certificates and provide the government with performance reports, an audited financial report, asset lists, and the next year’s budget to renew the certificate. As a separate act, the Parliament also passed the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission bill, which will give the commission supervisory power over all aid groups. The bill excludes UN agencies and the Red Cross.

“My hope is the law, as it’s currently written, is not passed,” said Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations at Samaritan’s Purse. “Some of the language in the bill is going to make emergency relief work very complicated. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of control techniques.”

Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian organization, has worked in South Sudan since 1993, building emergency hospitals and providing large-scale feeding programs. Isaacs said local authorities have tried passing several NGO regulatory statutes, each one more restraining and punitive than the one before.

Last year, South Sudanese officials made a similar move, requiring aid organizations to use local banks and obtain a permit to carry out their work. Failure to comply could result in fines, among other regulations.

“You cannot operate in a country under your own condition,” Justice Minister Paulino Wanawilla told the Sudan Tribune. “We also have our reservation as government because sometimes the NGOs concentrate on doing the same thing in the same area, and when you tell them to diversify their services—like the health services—they say ‘No.’”

South Sudan remains the youngest country in the world after gaining its independence from Sudan in 2011. Since then, political unrest has plagued the nation, and in 2013, a civil war broke out after a failed coup by soldiers loyal to former deputy Riek Machar.

This year, more than 5 million people in South Sudan are in need of life-saving assistance, according to the United Nations. Humanitarian groups fear the pending law’s impact on their efforts to reach those in need.  The United Nations released a statement on behalf of the humanitarian community asking the South Sudanese government to submit the bill to public consideration.

Isaacs agreed, saying some dialogue between the government and all involved parties would result in a more cohesive law.

“What I want to see is a conversation with the NGOs, the government of South Sudan, and the donor countries, and try to understand their regulations and then work together to achieve an agreeable outcome,” he said. 

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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