South Sudan MPs raise alarm over dwindling fates of colleges

South Sudan MPs raise alarm over dwindling fates of colleges
Zakaria Matur Makuer, chairperson of specialized committee of higher education talks to The City Review on Tuesday in his office. [Sheila Ponnie, City Review]

The chairperson of the Transitional National Assembly’s specialised committee on higher education has urged the government to set priority for implementation while preparing fiscal year budgets.

Zakaria Matur Makuer told The City Review yesterday that his committee would schedule a meeting with the ministry of higher education to find out what their priorities are that the upcoming budget should address before it is presented to parliament in May.

Zakaria argued that government spending agencies sometimes divert money budgeted for a specific project to other activities and overspend their budget without proper justification. He said the committee’s hands are tied when it comes to dismissing ministers because the current unity government is established by agreement.

“We are not talking only about the ministry of higher education; we are talking about the whole country when we have a budget like this, what we are addressing as a country,” he said.

“Let us say this year we are addressing a health problem, so the whole country will put money into that, and we will say we are going by this. Next year, we say we want to provide water for our people in Juba, and we put money into this. It is not to say but to do it, “he said.

He asserted that the wars of 2013 and 2016 left a significant void in the country and advised that “the government should have addressed these holes and then relax, everything will be OK.”

Zakaria pointed out that the majority of students sitting for secondary exams did not apply for positions in the national universities, and urged that something be done to encourage them.

“We will be looking at this budget critically to see whether it will go up or come down. If it goes up, we will sit down with our line ministry so that we really target the most important objectives facing higher education like the laboratory.

“Most of our students, especially in the sciences and medicine, graduate without autonomy. This is incredible. They do not have practical work, and this is our worry here at the parliament, and this should be the work of the government, “Zakaria explained.

“When the announcement of the admission of the universities comes, you will see how many have been distributed to each university. You will find two, three, and seven. How can you open a class for two people if you can’t? We are going to close down some of the universities in our country if we continue in this trend,’’ he warned.

The chairwoman of the higher education committee pledged support to enable more people to take up the teaching courses.

“This is a package we are planning to encourage the ministry of higher education to find money, including the ministry of general education to find money, so that they can join the college of education.”

“If we say that education cannot be a priority, what else are we doing because education is what will rebuild our country,” she emphasized.

The budget for 2020/2021 has increased in comparison to prior years. However, the chair of the committee stated that salaries are the most expensive part of the budget. According to Zakaria, the ministry of higher education was granted 19 billion SSP, with 14 billion going to wages and 5 billion going to other costs like operations, but the money was not transferred in full by the ministry of finance.

Makuer remarked during their talks with line ministries on the assessment of the national budget for the fiscal year 2021/2022 that each university is given a budget that is based on its capacity, which includes staffing. The University of Juba was allocated SSP 5 billion, Upper Nile had a budget of 3.5 billion, and Dr. John Garang Memorial University has a budget of 3.5 billion. Rumbek University is worth SSP2 billion and Bahr el Ghazal University is worth 3.5 billion SSP.