Ambassador’s Remarks at an Event Organized by the Principals of Rome-Based Agencies of the United Nations

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Michael J. Adler at an Event Organized by the Principals of Rome-Based Agencies of the United Nations – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) during their Official Visit to South Sudan at a Meeting with the International Community

Juba, August 1, 2023

Director General Qu, Executive Director Ambassador McCain, President Lario,

I warmly welcome and deeply appreciate your visit.  Thank you for arranging your busy schedules to travel here together; it sends a powerful message of coordination and partnership in the international effort to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of South Sudan.

Our appreciation for your agencies’ work in South Sudan reflects recognition of the many other demands on your resources in other parts of the region and the world.

It also reflects acknowledgement that South Sudan presents among the world’s most challenging environments in which to provide assistance.  More than 130 aid workers have been killed in this country since 2013.

The United States has provided assistance to the people of South Sudan for decades, starting long before this country achieved independence.  We remain the largest donor and provided more than $1 billion last year to assist the people of South Sudan.

We have not engaged in this effort alone, but in partnership with many other international donors who are represented in this room.

Our humanitarian assistance is needs-based, but that should not lead us to overlook the primary basis for these needs.

Mention could be made of a range of factors that lead to increased need including the returnee and refugee flows from Sudan, as well as climate shocks.

However, the driving factors are those that are in the hands of the transitional government to address.  These include corruption and the lack of transitional government use of public revenue to respond to humanitarian needs.

These factors also include subnational violence, lack of accountability for human rights violations – including gender-based violence – and failure to meet commitments made in the 2018 peace agreement.

Some say that the time has come to shift away from humanitarian assistance to more traditional development assistance, including strengthening government capacity and government-led implementation of assistance programs.

As a theory, this may make sense in other places, and it is my deepest wish that such an approach will someday be feasible here.  However, it is incumbent upon the transitional government to first create an environment that is conducive to development assistance and investment for this shift to take place, so that donors and investors can more effectively help the South Sudanese people.

Regrettably, such an environment does not yet exist.  It will not exist until the transitional government takes steps to meet peace commitments, address human rights violations and corruption, and establish transparency in the use of public revenue including from the oil sector, which accounts for the vast majority of national resources.

The transitional government has a responsibility to provide basic services to its citizens.  This includes consistent and timely payment of employees in the public sector, such as health workers, teachers, and security forces, in a transparent and accountable manner.  It includes increasing its contribution to the health sector beyond the current level of two percent.  The transitional government must also increase its contribution to humanitarian assistance to its people who are in greatest need.

In the South Sudan context, it is misleading to frame the challenge facing us purely in terms of a peace-humanitarian-development nexus.  In some developing countries, that framework may apply.  Here, we need to focus first on the peace-humanitarian-governance nexus.  By governance, I mean government responsibility, accountability, and transparency.

To do otherwise is to pursue a recipe for continued dependency and weakening of the prospects for the future we all wish for the South Sudanese people: a future of peace, democracy, and prosperity.

Just as the transitional government must be accountable to the South Sudanese people, we donors must hold ourselves accountable to our taxpayers back home, and we must consider people in dire need in other countries for whom adequate resources are not available.

I need to be clear.  Under current conditions, governance challenges in South Sudan will not be solved through donor assistance directly to state institutions.  Decades of war and a difficult history have indeed resulted in institutional challenges.  However, we miss the point when we overuse the phrase “weak institutions” when the fundamental problem is mismanagement of public revenue and corruption and the harmful effects this has on public and private sector investment.  It is important to be intellectually honest about which problem we are dealing with.  Speaking hypothetically and from a global perspective, we can say that direct assistance to governments may help address weak institutions.  However, in this context, we can say with far greater confidence that direct assistance worsens corruption and mismanagement.

It is also vitally important that all of us work together to better safeguard donors’ investments in humanitarian and development assistance against diversion and elite capture.

We must work together to increase efforts to reduce the risks of fraud, waste, and abuse especially when we see extensive illegal networks of road and riverine checkpoints, looting of warehouses, and attacks on humanitarian convoys.

I look forward to today’s discussion.

Thank you.