Sarah Akongo is a secretary for the Committee for Education, Research, Science and Technology in South Sudan’s National Legislative Assembly. Her job requires her to take committee meeting minutes, schedule appointments for committee staff and help research constituency issues. Since she started working at the assembly three years ago, she has seen tremendous change in her country and her government.

As with all young democracies, the government is experiencing growing pains. Despite the hard work of Akongo and her colleagues, the national assembly struggles to prove itself as an independent body. In a new report, The Question of Big Government, and Financial Viability: The Case of South Sudan, by the Juba-based think tank Sudd Institute, the nascent assembly was criticized for over-reliance on the executive branch. Agreeing with many of the report’s finding, assembly staff have begun to address the contributing factors, including insufficiency of training on legislative processes and the deficiency of English literacy among the support staff.

To support the assembly staff as they strengthen their skills and the institution, the International Republican Institute (IRI) hosted a two-week workshop to help staff understand their roles and responsibilities. The workshop focused on conducting legislative research and holding committee hearings and walked participants through the basics of planning a committee hearing: identifying an issue, locating a venue, selecting witnesses, developing committee questions, writing an agenda, notifying the public and outlining a timeline for legislative action. During the final two days of the workshop, committee staff developed and presented plans for their respective committees to hold at least one public hearing in the next four months.

Speaking to the national assembly staff at the end of the workshop, the Honorable Aleu Ateny Aleu, Chairperson for Security and Public Order, said, “The strength of a parliament lies in its support staff. The whole work depends on you. We have learned that the only way to have a strong parliament is to have strong support staff.”

Following the workshop, Akongo spoke proudly about what she learned. “I can now draft a bill, conduct research and take minutes correctly, since I now know what a bill is and what makes a law and how it’s passed; I believe and promise to change things and advise the parliamentarians on how to move a motion and various legislative processes.”

Akongo plans to meet with her chairperson to set clear responsibilities and goals for the committee and organize a work plan that will include numerous committee hearings.

Committee hearings are new to South Sudan’s legislature. A week after the workshop was conducted the Committee for Legislation and Justice organized a high-profile public hearing to discuss the national constitutional development process. The hearing was held to securitize the executive branch’s proposed constitutional amendment for an extension on the National Constitution Review Commission, whose mandate had expired a month earlier. The two staff members, who had attended IRI’s workshop, worked with the committee chairperson to organize the hearing which was attended by more than 100 people, including government officials, civil society organization, political parties and the media. A report from the hearing was distributed to all legislators in the assembly in order to inform them on their vote.

The IRI-sponsored workshop was funded through a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development and was attended by the Deputy Clerk Ludoviko Lual Aken Lual and more than 70 staff from the assembly committees, Office of the Speaker, Office of the Clerk, Office of the Chief Whip, Office of the Minority Leader, Women Parliamentarian’s Caucus and other departments.

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