Full speech transcript: Baak’s reform agenda

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

Without doubt this is one of the most wonderful, colorful and beautiful reception I have ever seen in this ministry.

I’m glad in my heart. I feel pleased and humbled to have been received in this manner.

We know welcoming ceremonies are not for long speeches, they are for dancing, expression of happiness, congratulatory messages and so on but I want to say a few words as we wait for other occasions and other functions to interact and brainstorm.

In regards to our operations and performance within the ministry, I want to give words of thanks and appreciation but first to our Almighty God, our Father in heaven, for His grace, for His protection and for His guidance, and more importantly, for facilitating my appointment.

Without God, I would have not been here. Praise the Lord. God is good! All the time!

I want to thank His excellence the President General Salva Kiir Mayardit, our beloved, selfless and dedicated leader.

Against all odds, he said in his office and just decided to appoint me, a mere teacher from the University of Juba.

On behalf of youth, I want to say Your Excellency, thank you so much. We are privileged for this opportunity.

I also want to thank the former Minister, Honorable Dr. Dier Tong Ngor; for his efforts despite the global economic conditions and I want to thank the citizens of this country for their patience and their resilience during this economic hardship.

And finally to my employees at the Ministry of Finance and Planning, starting from the Deputy Minister, all the Under Secretaries, DGs and technical advisors, for your commitments, your sacrifices to deliver the most needed services to our people in this Republic.

You know, in the last few two days I have been receiving texts, calls and people were coming to me. Among the hundreds of text messages I have received, there was one text that captured my attention.

Someone said, Congratulations, Dr. Baak but where did you come from? And, I think this is a good question, and you know, this fellow was neither questioning my ethnicity nor did he intend to know the estates of my origin.

He’s just curious to know my political background and my orientation and perhaps my professional services too. He just want to know where I have been and how is it possible?

For someone at this age to be appointed as a National Minister of Finance and Planning and this is a genuine worry or question or inquiry?

Well, my friend, I’m a public servant. All public servants are not known in the public.

I have been working closely with this ministry and the Central Bank for over 17 years in different capacities. I’m also an Assistant Professor at the School of Business and Management at the University of Juba.

I taught many, including the former first under Secretaries Honorable, Ochom, and Honorable Garang Majak. They were my MB students and many others that I have seen in the attendance today.

So I’m familiar to those I have interacted with in these two sectors, the financial sector and the educational sector. I’m also an SPLM member.

I have been for so long, for over 30 years, I have been a loyal, active member of the SPLM.

So I’m neither a stranger to the Minister of Finance nor do I need an introduction to the politics and the SPLM in this country.

Nevertheless, let me say this few remarks just to highlight some important matters that I think deserve more attention than my height, my age, my color of the skin, and all these sort of things.

What matters the most is that I will serve you, all of you, without discrimination. I will never question your ethnicity, your religion, your beliefs, or anything of that kind.

I will treat you equally without exception and offer you just your rights as you deserve, including your salaries, your deals and every coin that you are entitled to, and not only within the ministry but across the country.

You know, our President Salva Kiir Mayardit, is so much concerned about your wellbeing and he is so much disturbed about the economic conditions all of you continue to face and he wants to rectify those conditions and that is why he instructed me and my team to bring about reform and change in this ministry.

A total paradigm shift that will continue to facilitate the government to build a solid foundation for economic development and progress.

And in this transformational process, there are minor things that we will have to automatically drop or eliminate on the process like the delay of salaries, nepotism in reassignment or deployment within the ministry, lack of incentives and rewards for hard working employees, random issuance of checks and cancellation on the process and the bribery some of you charge against approve financial claims. The 10% or even now 40%.

We will have to eliminate all these bad habits and open new doors of opportunities for all my fellow citizens and employees, regardless of our tribes, our ethnicities, and our regions.

We are citizens of this country and I believe we are not relocating anywhere at any given time, maybe until Jesus comes. So, we have a shared obligation to build this country honestly and responsibly.

Just like our forefathers who sacrificed and dedicated their energies, their talents and their lives to advance this country safely and united for us.We have an obligation as a generation.

You know, in most cases people blame government for not Building Schools, building roads, maintaining security, and it is true that these are core responsibilities of an independent government but what is your role, if I may ask?

What is your role as a good citizen? What is your role as a good follower? You are supposed to produce, you are supposed to pay taxes and you are supposed to spend even your private salary.

Consciously, remember, a government can’t be strong or realistically generate enough wealth unless its citizens are productive, are honest and are hardworking because it is this individual production that is aggregated to what we call GDP.

So, I believe this is the right time for economic transformation. I’m here to join hands with you and all the relevant institutions in this country, including the think tanks, universities, independent experts and donors to bring about change in the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

We will reach out to everybody and shall install suggestion box in my office for complaints and compliments. You know, contractors are tired of our 10% in the ministry.

People are tired of budget deficits and overdraft while many are going hungry, lack of medicines, clean drinking water, and rough roads between the states.

We need to change, and it must be now.

Let’s promise our people quality services and let’s strive to build a strong sovereign national wealth that will benefit all of us. Let’s work hard to transform not only the economics but the conditions of our country. Let’s improve our living standards and thrive to build a strong working economy for all of us.

You know, we can be one of the fastest growing economies, not only in East Africa or even Africa, but across the world if we unite, live in peace, eliminate corruption and equitably share our national resources, we can be one of the strongest economy.

As you may know, the main source of our political, economic and even social instability is economy. The major source of all these kinds you see around is poverty.

It is because we do not focus on developing our economic sectors. We have not chosen to allocate sufficient budgets to agriculture, to education and empowering the security sector.

It is because we are poor and hungry. That is why people are killing themselves across the nation.

I challenge you. If we provide food to everybody, no one will ever kill his or her brother. I want us to be realistic on budgeting and selling allocation.

Let’s tighten our financial system and let’s promise our people that there will be no corruption in awarding contracts to anybody.

Remember, we can’t be respected unless we are financially free. We can’t even have a voice in regional or international forums unless we are financially free and we can’t even protect our borders if we don’t have a strong army, a well-paid army, a discipline army.

And we cannot have all of these if we continue playing cards and dominoes along the roadsides instead of producing, I know the road to economic transformation will be too rough.

I know I’ll be call names. I’ll be opposed. I may even be threatened to death but I want to promise you. I will stand my ground. I’ll try my best. I’ll persist in pursuing a new path to economic recovery and reform and I will do whatever that favors the majority and people should understand that change is enough to go and there is no right time for change.

Change can come anytime. I believe the time made have come.

Do you know me? Let’s say enough is enough, let’s build our country. Let’s put an end to this.

We fought a very expensive war that devastated our way of life, to liberate our self from operation, from hunger, from rampant diseases.

Let’s build our country with dedication and honesty and let’s repair the broken hope of our people.

Let’s fight together for economic independence and freedom as we fought for our political emancipation. This is very important.

Let’s join hands.

As a minister, I can’t do anything alone. We have to work together.

Let’s work together to fix this chaotic black market, this high inflation rate, this high unemployment rate, and let’s create a conducive atmosphere for foreign direct investment in our country.

You know we are too blessed as a country. We are blessed with natural resources, minerals, urban land and anything that can make us so rich in a very short while. So instead of relying on generators, let’s build our own down.

I want us to remember our founding father, Dr. John Garang, who once said ‘people see government as a heap of resources and everybody want to get access to the resources to enrich themselves’. This is a misperception.

It should be the other way around, as you say, because the people are supposed to be productive, strong and wealthy in order to make their government strong.

I believe this is the time. This is the time to work hard to eliminate bribery and nurture the culture of transparency and accountability.

As I speak to you here, you may think I’m excited for being appointed as a Minister of Finance and Planning, and it is true as I appreciate the opportunity.

I’m so much worried and there is a lot of anxiety in me. I’m thinking of my fellow South Sudanese living in Raja, living in Yei, living in Lomochok bordering Ethiopia.

I think of those suffering and dying because of lack of food and lack of medicines. I’m thinking of those as stranded in renk and how to transport them back to their villages, those coming from Sudan, or how even to provide them a meal.

My brain will not rest until I make sure I have something to pay our soldiers in our bushes protecting us and providing us security.

I’m so much worried here about citizens in Juba, those of not afford transport because of the fuel prices, those coming from Jebel Dinka, from Munuki on foot because of the fuel prices, or even those sleeping hungry because they don’t have food because of the dollar prices.

I’m so much disturbed about the woman giving birth back in the villages, but they don’t have access to hospitals.

I’m so much worried about our diplomats serving abroad but have gone for years without payment. These are my worries.

You know, the trust granted to me by the president is to help him and the government achieve economic and financial instability.

There is nothing beyond that. But how do we do it?

We must first have an efficient revenue mobilization, and that is the task of NRA.

We must then have an effective financial management system and economically spending not just anyhow, but as budgeted.

We should all be admired and inspired to do that because that is an instruction from our president.

You know, we will diversify our economy and put an end to our total dependency on oil revenues.

We are going to embark on the most essential sectors of our economy like agriculture, infrastructure and even mining and manufacturing in the long run.

You know, that is what I have come to facilitate.

That is the mission given to me and that is why in few weeks or even month, it depends on the policies of the ministry.

New reform policy

I’m going to introduce what I have called Economic Emergency Intervention Plan.

This is a policy intended to fix the foreign exchange market by providing essential goods to cut the skyrocketing markets prices and also accelerate the implementation of public financial management reforms.

Through this policy we shall also be able to facilitate food items to the flood affected areas, to the drug affected areas and many other areas to rescue our people.

We will work together with our colleagues in the economic cluster and the central bank because part of this policy fall under the monetary police to enhance the modalities of implementation.

We deserve to live a decent life just like the rest of the world. What have we done to suffer for all this long?

This is the time to give opportunity for production. Let’s enjoy the fruits of our independence. I believe there is nobody that is denying us that chance. It is we, all of us together.

We are all shareholders in making the conditions of our country friendly to us and I will give you my view.

If I give some of you, not all of you of course 1,000,000 USD, the first thing you will think about tomorrow is to fly to Dubai.

You will brush in Dubai, you will sleep in Ankara, have lunch in Uganda and people continue wondering why we don’t have dollars.

They will go and buy V8, V6, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and you continue wondering why we don’t have medicines, why malaria, typhoids and ulcers are so rampant in our country.

They will do everything.

They will go and buy mansions in Nairobi, in Colorado, in United States, in New York and enjoy life and people continue to wonder why we don’t have feeder roads, why we don’t have hospitals.

I think we have problems in this country to solve and we will have to work together to rectify those.

We should not be content with free things and luxury. This country is blessed with minerals, as I said, and we can be so rich in a very short while and there are economic models of development.

We can borrow internationally from those countries.

And for these reasons, ladies and gentlemen, I think we need to revisit our economic and financial management systems.

We need to rethink how we utilize the little money we have. Should we continue to give them to our good spenders, the few, or should we kindly and efficiently allocate them to produce goods and services within our land?

That is a tough question, and that is why, as a minister, my work will not be merely to sign checks and giving approvals to the field.

My mandate, rather, will be to plan, to organize, to control and supervise a working economy for all. We should all be aware of how volatile the economic indicators are, from high inflation to a thriving black market and joblessness of our youth.

We need to expedite and accelerate the process of economic transformation because there is no time left.

If you are 50, you want to enjoy life. If you are 60, also want to enjoy life.

If you are 20, you want to enjoy the rest of your years. Who does not want to enjoy life?

But we cannot enjoy life if we don’t have quality services offered by the Minister of Finance.

And the reason why I say it, we are shareholders in this, let me explain further.

Dollar Issue

You know, we support other economies so much. Integral economics, rational economics is production, distribution, pricing, any spending.

If you spend 90% of your income in other countries, in Uganda, in Nairobi, in Ethiopia, in New York, for your family to pay rent, to pay school fees and enjoy life, what do you think will happen to our pound?

Because all of these people converge to Juba Town by the end of the month to look for dollars to buy so that they can send abroad.

That is the problem and that is why the burden is not the Ministry of Finance. It is our behavior, the way we live, and that is why I said let’s rectify this together, and people should understand that economics is a science.

There’s nothing you can do forcefully in economics. I cannot order the black market or even the foreign exchange market to come down. There’s no way but I have to facilitate the market, play all sides of demand and supply so that the market can stabilize.

I cannot order the black market or even the foreign exchange market to come down, but I have to facilitate the market play all sides of the demand and supply so that the market can stabilize.

And if the factors of production are land, labor, capital, entrepreneurship, technology, organization, what are we good at as South Sudanese, we may have arable land, yes, but unutilized, a huge amount of unskilled labor that needs training.

We don’t have capital. We have very little proceeds from the oil. We don’t have entrepreneurs supported by the government. We also don’t have technology in our production system.

And still people say economy is not growing, economy is bad, finance ministry is bad but we are not utilizing factors of production. That’s the problem.

If you want us to grow, let’s go for agriculture. Let’s use technology to produce our food and let’s train our entrepreneurs and support our private sector.

My fellow citizens, the issue of dollar is everyone’s responsibility. Valuing our SSP is our collective responsibility.

We have dollarized our economy alone by ourselves in a way that we don’t know.

For example you have a house in Gudele, Munuki or shop in Juba or Hai Thoura for rent and you say ‘my house is at 10,000 dollar and my shop is 500 dollars’

You are forcing the tenant to go and look for dollars so that he can pay you.

Now, who is the problem? We are the problem. It’s not the ministry of finance or central bank.

We should not dollarize our economy and that is why we are going to introduce policies that will discourage people from looking for dollars.

If you are going to Kampala for instance or Nairobi, we will give you shillings because you don’t need dollars to go to Kampala, you just need Ugandan shilling.

V8 and Luxury cars

And we are also going to discourage people from buying luxury cars V8, V6. I just got this V8 ready, if I was left, I will come using hardtop, because these expensive commodities, are very costly to our economy.

V8 is good and luxurious but very expensive to our economy and that is why I’m going to increase. Together with the Commissioner General, we are going to increase tariff on luxury goods and commodities because we want to bring food to hungry people. We are not increasing V8 or V6 for people who need more of them.

Digitalizing payment system

Another thing also is to digitalize our payment system. If you are going to buy products from Turkey, from China, from India, we will facilitate your payment my brother, my sister.

You don’t need to carry cash in planes. This issue of carrying cash from central bank has to be stopped. It is shame to see people traveling with such cash in planes. Let’s be modernized.

Financial Claims

Another thing is this issue of financial claims.

You know, even before I was appointed, people were coming to my offices at the University of Juba and Juba Town because I have office there.

People say ‘please if you are brought as finance minister later, this is my claim! Help me’

You know these claims, we need to find smart way of handling them because it’s indeed a burden to our economic growth.

There are claims that are truly genuine but there are claims which are not genuine.

So we need to work together to verify, validate and thoroughly investigate all the financial claims so that we can budget for the genuine claims.

Promise to the Youth

I know I’m a hope of millions of youth. I want to promise you, my generation, that I will do my best to support your businesses, your education and your prosperity. I’ll try my best

The companies, private sector. We keep crying that there is no money but these private sector don’t publish financial statements quarterly or annually or semi-annually.

We don’t even know how much they make.

How do you tax them?

We need all the private sector, all the companies. We have thousands of companies in this country to publish financial statements so that we can know if you are making losses or profits.

Many people have companies in the bags that don’t employ people. We need companies that employ people. If your market capitalization is 100 million, you should have more than 200 employees. South Sudanese.

If your market capitalization without 50 million, then you should have adequate number.

Promise of cooperation in the ministry with employees

As I conclude, I want to promise you my employees a friendly cooperation with their conducive atmosphere for operation and a long lasting united family of the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

Remember, we are the heart and the backbone of this government and must be the best team ever.

I want to reiterate my deepest appreciation and thanks to the organizing team, to our artist, to my family, to all my brothers and sisters who came to Jubilate with the ministry at this particular time.

I talked much, but that is the nature of a teacher.

You know when I enter the class, we talk a lot and we even forget time. So bear with me.

Thank you so much.

I appreciate and I’m looking forward to cooperating with you in this transformational phase.