To dredge or not: VPs differ with President’s directive

To dredge or not: VPs differ with President’s directive
President Salva Kiir issues an address in a past event. Lawmakers are urging him to address the nation on cost of living. [File, The City Review]

Three vice presidents have differed with President Salva Kiir’s directive that all dredging exercises be halted.

The president on July 9 directed that planned dredging of Sudd Wetlands and digging of the Jonglei Canal be stopped until feasibility studies are conducted by experts.

The First Vice President, Dr Riek Machar, the Vice President for Economic Cluster, Dr James Wani Igga and the Vice President for Infrastructure Cluster, Taban Deng Gai, gave contradicting views to that of the Commander in Chief.

They maintained that the Council of Ministers had already passed a resolution on dredging and clearing of rivers and they could not revoke them without the sitting of the council of ministers.

“On some of the recommendations, can you pledge them? Don’t forget that we are the government, and we have a resolution in the Council of Ministers. Nobody overturns it, only the Council of Ministers. So, am I being heard?” Dr Machar asked.

Support dredging

“Let’s reach a compromise. This is a council of ministers and this presentation is being done in front of us, we can’t say stop dredging because the council of ministers has already done that…what is the best word to put?” he questioned. 

 “Don’t make us a rubber stamp to things we don’t agree to. That must be very clear. We are members of government, we are not public. We have made two resolutions in the council of ministers nobody overturns the council of ministers, with our participation. It would look as if we plotted, with you to come and overturn the council of ministers’ resolutions.”

The Vice President for Economic Cluster, Dr James Wani Igga, said the country should not wait for citizens to drown in their own eyes, but must urgently rescue them.

“The main aim why we need this dredging is to rescue our people from floods because they are dying in front of us now, not tomorrow. Maybe 60 per cent displaced. In Bentiu now maybe 50 per cent are displaced, and we think we should wait until all the scientists of the world are finished and then we will come and rescue them, from drowning, ah, that would be very insensitive. Death is death cannot wait,” Dr Igga said.

“The aim here is not only to reduce the flooding, but it is also to create navigation for us; transport. We just want to remove the sand and the mud that has been thrown there without increasing it.”      

The Vice President for Infrastructure Cluster, Taban Deng Gai stated that there was a need to clean the river, which the experts did not mention in their recommendations.

“The issue was here, I thought we separated the two. There was an immediate need for cleaning the river, and the dredging was subject to the experts’ opinion. For your information, Babur (ship) used to come from Malakal, and goes to Kosti, goes to Nasir, goes to Akobo, goes to Bor. Now, who in South Sudan can think that a boat can go to Bor?” VP Taban asked.

“You the three ministries, the environment, water and then transport, three of you please, just form your technical committees and let them go to Bentiu and see the machines. Are they really sophisticated or just normal machines, then you take over, clean the river, meanwhile you do our sophisticated social assessment impact, and then studies on what to do?”

Dr Salwa Gabriel, one of the experts, stated that they were not obliged to present their recommendations to the Council of Ministers, but to the president, and so the president would decide on what to do with the recommendations and whether to return them to the council of ministers or make his decision based on them.

 “The results of the work of this consultation are not going to be sent to the Council of Ministers. This consultation was called on directives of the president, so our understanding was that all these works for the five days would be put in a report and submitted to the president, and then the president would in his wisdom determine how he is going to treat the report,” Dr Salwa said.

President Salva Kiir Mayardit halted dredging and its related activities during the 11th anniversary of South Sudan’s Independence, to give room for public consultation and feasibility study on the possible consequences of dredging on the civil population.

On Thursday, Prof Tag Elkhazin recommended that dredging should not be done until a proper study is carried out. He noted that the project might channel water to Egypt and dry up the Sudd.

According to Prof Tag, floods cannot be mitigated using dredging but construction of dams and so Haffirs should be constructed to contain water. He added that the digging of the Jonglei Canal was a hundred per cent colonial project and should not be embraced.