JUBA, (IRIN) - Sudanese officials and representatives of donor nations opened a major conference in Norway on 5 May, amid warnings that the provisions of a three-year-old peace accord had fallen dangerously behind schedule.
On the second day of the conference, Norway pledged US$500 million for 2008-11 and the EU promised $435 million for the same period.
Many in Southern Sudan, especially returning refugees and internally displaced people who flocked back after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, feel frustrated by the lack of services and facilities such as health and educational institutions. The CPA allows for proposed elections in 2009 and a referendum on secession in 2011.
"I do not understand why the GOSS [Government of Southern Sudan] cannot provide a little percentage of its revenues to provide water," a participant at a recent meeting on water problems said in Malakal, Upper Nile State.
His frustration was shared by a local politician. "We cannot spend the whole [six-year] CPA interim period on emergencies," Peter Pal Riak, state minister for infrastructure in Upper Nile, said. "The people [of Southern Sudan] will not realise what peace has brought unless they receive services."
Norway’s minister for environment and international development, Erik Solheim, in a statement issued before the 5-7 May meeting, warned: "The Comprehensive Peace Agreement is in a critical phase ... The parties must redouble their efforts to implement the agreement."
He linked the agreement to the crisis in Darfur: "The situation in Sudan is highly complex, and there is little hope for achieving peace in Darfur unless the North-South peace agreement is successfully implemented."
Several key provisions of the CPA have yet to be completed. These include final redeployment of both forces; the training and deployment of Joint Integrated Units; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants; border demarcation; resolution of the status of the disputed Abyei region, and the distribution of its oil revenues.
“Both parties must be pressured to comply with their commitments,” Refugees International, an advocacy group, urged in a statement released as the Oslo meeting began.
“The parties continue to dispute whether redeployment of armed forces is fully complete and there is still no agreement on border demarcation. In fact, fighting is taking place between Northern and Southern armed groups at the disputed border. [A population] census is taking place in an atmosphere of great tension and distrust between the parties, and its results will no doubt be disputed. Elections and the referendum on self-determination are future potential flashpoints for conflict,” the statement added.
Donors say the Oslo meeting provides an opportunity to take stock and examine issues such as the high costs of construction in the south. According to Laurence Clarke, a World Bank official for Southern Sudan, constructing a classroom block in Southern Sudan costs $250,000 - three times the cost in Angola ($80,000) and Liberia ($60,000).
"I realise it’s a large difference between the two [and] we know what is reasonable for post-conflict countries," he said in Juba, Southern Sudan’s capital. The high price could arise from the fact that materials and labour are imported.
"Everything is expensive in Sudan," Clarke added said. "The contractors are expensive; the cement is about $30 a bag - three times the regional costs.”
The cost of a school building in Southern Sudan is three times that in Angola because of the high cost of imports
The North and South are making a combined request for about $6 billion in reconstruction funds for the next three years, of which $2.5 billion is for the South, according to press reports.
More than 30 countries and organisations are sending delegates to the Oslo meeting. Apart from senior Sudanese officials, other participants include UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, World Bank Africa regional Vice-President Obiageli Ezekwesili, EC Commissioner Louis Michel, and US Sudan envoy Richard Williamson.
Three years after their forces stopped fighting each other, relations between North and South remain very strained.
In a report released in March, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that underlying difficulties between the two had hampered implementation of the CPA, while mounting tension in Abyei created a risk of renewed clashes.
The report cited the main threats to the CPA as personalities who felt threatened by the peace deal, divisions with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the pre-occupation among international partners with Darfur.
"Both sides calculate that a return to war is not in their best interests ... but there is great distrust and each side wants cooperation on its own terms," the report said.
Another advocacy group, the Enough Project, said the peace deal had "lurched towards breakdown". In a 17 April report, it said the principal reason for this was the Khartoum government’s failure to implement CPA provisions on the future of Abyei.
Southern leaders say they lack adequate resources to redevelop the war-ravaged region and deliver services. "We are beginning from zero," Southern Sudanese regional cooperation minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told IRIN in the capital, Juba. "We are in fact at zero line."
The view was echoed by finance minister Kuol Athain: "We hoped that we would use oil money to develop the other sectors, but we are spending all of it on salaries."
It is difficult to say how big the civil service is. "Nobody really knows how many people are employed by the states, by the counties," said Sanjeev S Ahluwalia, senior public sector specialist, the World Bank-managed Multi Donor Trust Fund, for Southern Sudan.
According to the bank, over-employment is likely to continue to derail Sudan’s recovery for the foreseeable future. "In most post-conflict countries, large-scale retrenchment is problematic; it is difficult to implement," said Laurence Clarke, the World Bank Southern Sudan manager.
But, he added, unemployment was a much bigger threat to a post-war government’s future than over-employment. "It is not something we would recommend."
Figures released by Sudan’s Ministry of Finance and National Economy show that total oil revenue for January 2008 was $582.12 million, comprising $464.7 million from exported oil and $117.53 million from domestic sales.
Of this, the share of the Southern Sudan government amounted to $231.39 million, while the share of the oil-producing states was $3.49 million for Unity; $4.60 million for Upper Nile; and $2.79 million for Southern Kordofan.
Southern Sudan has also enjoyed an outpouring of international and regional goodwill since the CPA was signed. At the first donors’ conference in Oslo in April 2005, four months after the signing of the CPA, some $4.5 billion was pledged, although far from all of this money materialised.
“The international community has not lived up to the financial pledges it made at the time the CPA was signed to support the South,” said Refugees International.
During the Oslo meeting, it said, “it is urgent for the international community to ensure that the people of Southern Sudan start enjoying peace dividends, not peace penalties”.