The Misguided $9 Million Water-Tanker Purchase: A Critical Look at South Sudan’s Misallocation of Resources[1]

Ebony Policy Note 2024-2                                                  13 January 2024

The Misguided $9 Million Water-Tanker Purchase: A Critical Look at South Sudan’s Misallocation of Resources[1]

This Ebony Policy Note is triggered by the initial reactions within the Development Policy Forum (DPF) digital platform (DP) to the decision of the Economic Cluster of the Council of Ministers (CoM) of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) of the Republic of South Sudan. Hence, the defining purpose of this Note is to contribute toward enhancing public policy debate in the use of scarce public resources on the one hand and to encourage, on the other, South Sudanese policymakers to pursue evidence-based decision-making processes. The Ebony Policy Note consists of five points: (1) analyzing the cost, (2) exploring alternative solutions, (3) calling for transparency, (4) looking at the economic implications of the decision, and (5) concluding the Note.

1.  Analyzing the Cost: Is $90,000 per Water-Tanker Justifiable?

There are voices within the DPF-DP calling for a cost-benefit approach in debating the decision of the Economic Cluster. In scrutinizing the $90,000 price tag for a water-tanker within Juba City’s borders, a rigorous cost-benefit analysis is imperative to determine whether the expenditure is justifiable. As we dissect this figure, it’s essential to consider the multifaceted nature of the water resources and distribution landscape within the City. Both the public and private sectors play a pivotal role in the provision of water. Yet, the profound question lingers: does the hefty investment yield proportional returns in terms of water supply and reliability? Another question is the appropriateness of the level of government with respect to this particular decision – would it not be appropriate to assign this function to the Government of Juba City? We think this is within the scope of duty of the Mayor of Juba, who has the necessary mandate to go into public-private partnership (PPP) in the provision of basic services, such as water.

When engaging with the private sector, prices might often reflect the operational costs, market conditions, and profit margins deemed acceptable by businesses. However, in the case of the public sector, the concept of opportunity cost becomes quintessentially relevant—public funds allocated for water-tankers are funds diverted from other potentially critical infrastructure or services. Thus, it is not solely the immediate price of the water tankers that must be weighed but also the broader economic impact of such an investment on the City’s financial health and its citizens’ well-being. Here, the answers to the four questions posed by Prof. Dan Bromley are particularly of interest to this discourse.

Moreover, comparing the $90,000 cost against the backdrop of alternative solutions for water delivery and infrastructure development is crucial. Is there evidence to support that this level of spending on water-tankers is the most cost-efficient approach to address Juba City’s water-related challenges? Or could these funds be better leveraged to create more sustainable, long-term water solutions? With judicious analysis, we strive to unravel whether the high price of securing water through these means aligns with the common good and the principles of fiscal federalism underpinned by economic prudence.

2.  Development Priorities: Exploring Alternative Water Supply Solutions

In addressing the growing concern of water scarcity in Juba City, we concur with the legitimate concerns raised in the DPF-DP that it is imperative to orient development priorities toward exploring alternative water supply solutions that meet both the economic and environmental demands of the present and future dwellers of the Juba City. These alternative solutions must be within the overall framework of the Public Financial Management (PFM) system. The FY2023/2024 is now in its third quarter of execution, and one wonders on what basis such a scheme is being undertaken. Is it an item in the supplementary budget that is yet to be presented to the Transitional National Legislature as required by law? Central to this endeavor is the meticulous execution of cost-benefit analysis, which brings to light the long-term sustainability of the proposed purchase of 100 water tankers.

Could this amount of $9.0 million be directed to accelerating the completion of the JICA-funded water project for Juba? The Juba City Council (i.e., government) and NOT the RTGoNU must, in our view, play a pivotal role in this evaluation, bearing in mind the opportunity cost of choosing one investment over another and the overarching need for sustainable water provision for the citizens of Juba City and surrounding counties. The point of departure of the proposed evaluation is the status of the implementation of the ongoing Juba City water project.

Furthermore, we think that the Mayor of Juba City and his government should seek partnership with the Chamber of Commerce in the provision of basic services to all the residents of Juba City. We believe that the private sector’s involvement can yield substantial benefits through the introduction of innovative technologies and efficient water management practices, ultimately influencing the price and affordability of water for the populace. Effective collaboration between the City Council and private entities can harness their respective strengths, minimize weaknesses, and drive the development of water infrastructure that is both cost-effective and reliable. As such, meticulous planning and strategic allocation of resources in Juba City are vital to ensure that the economic and social dividends of alternative water supply solutions can be realized, providing a cornerstone for both present and future generations to thrive.

3.  Government Transparency and Decision-Making: Who Pulled the Strings?

In Juba City, the complexities of governance – RTGoNU, Central Equatoria State Government (CESG) – and the interplay between the public and private sectors are manifested in the critical issue of water resource management. As policymakers grapple with the allocation of this vital resource, the principles of fiscal federalism, cost-benefit analysis, and opportunity cost come to the fore, shaping decisions that carry widespread socioeconomic implications. The question of water pricing, in particular, underscores the tension between ensuring affordability for the populace and covering the expenses associated with purification, distribution, and infrastructure maintenance. We are aware of the fact that this is an election year, and the government is anxious to show some tangible results of its service delivery. Nevertheless, it is an entity like the Juba City Council that could expedite the implementation of basic services, such as water for Juba inhabitants.

Compounding this dilemma is the demand for government transparency, as stakeholders from both the public and private sectors and the general citizenry seek to understand the rationale behind the decision-making process. The private sector’s involvement often sparks concerns over profit motives potentially overshadowing the public interest, while the public sector is tasked with balancing fiscal responsibility with equitable service provision. The scrutiny of who exactly ‘pulled the strings’ in these decisions is pivotal, not only to foster trust through transparency but also to ensure that the long-term welfare of Juba City’s inhabitants and the stewardship of its resources are not compromised for short-term gains. In this regard, we think that the Economic Cluster of RTGoNU must take its hands off this water-tankers purchase scheme and allow the Government of Juba City Council to pull the strings.

4.  Economic Implications: The Long-term Costs of a Short-sighted Investment

The pursuit of short-sighted investments without meticulous cost-benefit analysis can lead to dire economic implications, particularly when essential resources like water are involved. In South Sudan, the allure of swift monetary gains has occasionally prompted both private and public sector entities to overlook the long-term costs associated with such investments. It is imperative to understand that the price of immediate benefits can be outweighed by the eventual financial burdens that arise when the full spectrum of opportunity costs is not considered. What became the dura saga, crisis management saga, Letters of Credit (LCs) saga, and so on were noble ideas necessitated by the urgency of the moment and the propensity for swift monetary gains by influential individuals without political morality. Based on our bitter lessons of experience, this water-tankers purchase scheme should not be allowed this time.

For instance, if the focus on rapid infrastructure development compromises the sustainable management of water resources, the City could face future shortages that would not only elevate water prices but also impose hefty costs on future industries and residential areas alike. Subsequently, these higher operational costs would trickle down to consumers, exacerbating socioeconomic disparities. Therefore, strategic investment decisions must embody the division of responsibilities between the RTGoNU, CESG, and Juba City Council Government. It must also focus on a holistic viewpoint, incorporating environmental sustainability and long-term resource availability. When the private sector and the public sector (consensus within the three levels of government) align on such principles, the collective objective of fostering resilient and prosperous economic growth for Juba City materializes, mitigating the risks of incurring prohibitive long-term costs for seemingly lucrative, but ultimately unsustainable, short-term gains.

5.  The Uncompromising Role of the DPF-DP

In concluding this Ebony Policy Note, it is reassuring to see the quick response from the DPFers to what we have called the misguided $9.0 million water-tanker purchase scheme. From the heart of Juba City, where water scarcity underscores everyday life’s struggles, the DPFers are raising their voices in opposition to the Economic Cluster’s fiscal priorities. They are calling for a careful cost-benefit analysis approach. This call is on the argument that this scheme falls within the mandate of the Juba City Council. Moreover, even if it were to be within the mandate of RTGoNU, the call would still stand in that public funds are being committed outside the PFM underpinning the approved FY2023/2024 budget and diverted away from crucial infrastructure improvements, particularly in the water sector, where the price of inaction is measured in human lives.

We, therefore, appeal to the Economic Cluster of RTGoNU to take note that the opportunity cost of not respecting the PFM procedures and our decentralization/federalism system is too high, especially when considering the responsibility and mandate of the Juba City Council as well as the potential role of the private sector to drive economic growth and improve living standards. The DPFers are particularly criticizing the Economic Cluster’s allocation of resources, challenging the justifications for outlays that do not directly confront the pressing needs of Juba’s inhabitants. By emphasizing a data-driven approach, these critics strive to shift the focus of government spending toward projects that promise tangible benefits for the populace. Their concern reflects a broader debate on national expenditure, demanding accountability and transparency in pursuing policies that should serve the public interest and well-being.

[1] Prepared by VEST, Ebony Center

Ebony blog 2024-3

Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Accelerate Literacy in South Sudan

This blog is supplementary to our Ebony blog 2024-2 on “Investing in Education: The Key to Economic Growth in South Sudan.” The country has been fraught with challenges since its inception. Education, particularly literacy, remains a keystone in rebuilding and stabilizing the country. Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers a beacon of hope in this daunting endeavor by providing scalable and innovative solutions to overcome educational hurdles. This blog outlines the ways AI can be utilized to enhance and accelerate literacy across South Sudan.

AI-Driven Educational Platforms

Digital educational platforms powered by AI can deliver personalized learning experiences, catering to the unique needs of each student. These platforms can, lack of electricity notwithstanding, provide literacy programs in local languages, adjusting to the learner’s pace and augmenting areas that require additional attention.

Voice Recognition and Translation Tools

Given South Sudan’s linguistic diversity, AI-enabled voice recognition and translation tools could break language barriers. These tools can aid in the development of literacy by translating educational materials and high-quality content into multiple indigenous languages, making learning more accessible and efficient. This would, in turn, accelerate the adoption of mobile money and its wider usage in the economy of South Sudan, thereby contributing toward national financial inclusion.

Mobile Learning Applications

With the rise of mobile phone usage in South Sudan, AI-infused mobile applications can serve as a valuable resource for learners who do not have access to formal education. AI can track user progress, recommend tailored educational content, and adaptively reinforce learning outcomes. However, limited access to electricity remains one of the major constraints to the usage of this new technology. Nevertheless, South Sudan cannot afford to be left behind. It must allocate some of the oil for roads resources to the mobile learning infrastructure.  

Data Analytics for Tailored Education Policies

AI’s ability to process vast volumes of data can help South Sudan’s educational authorities analyze literacy rates, identify trends, and unveil the impact of interventions. With these insights, policymakers can make data-driven decisions to enhance the effectiveness of literacy programs.

Interactive Chatbots and Virtual Tutors

AI-driven chatbots and virtual tutors can engage students in interactive learning dialogues and provide instant feedback. They can answer questions, assist with language construction, and guide users through complex topics, ensuring literacy development continues outside of traditional classroom settings.

Overcoming the Digital Divide

To harness AI effectively, it is essential to address the emerging digital divide between rural and urban centers in South Sudan. Investing in rural electrification through solar and/or wind-powered power generation would lead to expanding internet access, and ensuring the availability of user-friendly devices is a preliminary step that will allow the full integration of AI into educational strategies.

Collaborative Partnerships

Cross-sectoral partnerships between the government, mobile telephone operating and mobile money companies, NGOs, South Sudanese diaspora, and local communities are critical in deploying AI solutions. These collaborations can tailor AI tools to meet South Sudan’s literacy needs and ensure that technology aligns with cultural and societal contexts. Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation is currently supporting m-Gurusg in the application of digital financial services (DFS) in South Sudan. This collaboration can be extended to boost literacy in the country.

Ethical Considerations

As AI is adopted to boost literacy, ethical considerations must guide the development and deployment of this technology. Privacy, data security, and inclusion should be at the forefront, ensuring that the benefits of AI are equitably distributed among all South Sudanese. Many South Sudanese, including the least literate, are using Facebook and TikTok at an alarming rate. This calls for urgent action before it is too late to restrain the use of these tools for unethical purposes.


Literacy is the cornerstone of personal empowerment and societal development. In South Sudan, the innovative use of AI can create substantial gains in literacy rates. With thoughtful implementation, fostering partnerships, and a commitment to ethical principles, AI technology could dramatically transform the educational landscape, driving South Sudan toward a more literate and prosperous future.

Ebony blog 2024-2                                             

Investing in Education: The Key to Economic Growth in South Sudan

Investing in education is the cornerstone to building a prosperous future for South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world. Despite being blessed with natural resources, years of conflict and political instability have thwarted its economic growth. South Sudanese must invest in education and create a skilled workforce to catalyze its economy.

Education is a fundamental human right and a potent tool for economic development. It has the potential to lift individuals out of poverty and transform economies. Education creates a skilled workforce that can contribute to economic growth and innovation. It also provides the knowledge and skills that enable individuals to make informed decisions about their lives and participate in the democratic process.

South Sudan has one of the lowest literacy rates globally, with only 34% of adults able to read and write. The country is also grappling with a shortage of trained teachers, with only one teacher for every 100 students. The solution? South Sudan must invest in teacher training, curriculum development, and infrastructure, especially broadband internet, to improve its education system. Schools in remote areas can be supported through investment in solar and/or wind-powered rural electricity, which would, in turn, facilitate distance learning.

One way of investing in technology for education is through partnerships with international organizations and NGOs. These organizations can provide funding and technical support to enhance the country’s education quality. They can also train teachers and develop curriculum materials that are relevant to the local context.

Investing in education will not only benefit individuals but also the economy as a whole. A skilled workforce will attract foreign investment and bolster South Sudan’s competitiveness in the global market. It will also create opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation, which are crucial for economic growth.

Undoubtedly, South Sudan faces significant challenges in investing in education, given its history of conflict and lack of infrastructure. However, partnerships with international organizations and NGOs can help to overcome these challenges and lead to a brighter future for the country.

In conclusion, investing in education is pivotal to the economic growth and prosperity of South Sudan. It will create a skilled workforce that can drive economic development and innovation while empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their lives and participate in the democratic process.

Ebony Blog 2024-1

From Conflict to Prosperity: How Economic Policy Can Help Rebuild South Sudan

Let us make 2024 the year when we fully implement our vision of the war of liberation. This vision was articulated in 2004 by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) blueprint – The SPLM Framework for War-to-Peace Transition. But we must first acknowledge that the civil war (2013 -2020) in South Sudan has caused immense damage to the country’s economy, infrastructure, and political stability. The war has left thousands of people dead, displaced millions, and shattered the country’s economic potential. However, with the genuine implementation of the peace agreement and adopting the right economic policies, South Sudan can rebuild its economy and achieve prosperity. In this regard, here are five right economic policies that we think South Sudan can adopt to rebuild its economy and achieve prosperity:


a) Improve the agriculture sector by investing in infrastructure, irrigation systems, and modern farming techniques to improve productivity and increase output;

b) Attract foreign direct investment (FDI) by improving the legal and regulatory framework, reducing corruption, and ensuring the security of investments;

c) Encourage entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by providing financial support and training and creating a business-friendly environment;

d) Focus on infrastructure development by investing in roads, railways, river transport, and airports to improve connectivity and provide an enabling environment for businesses; and

e) Implement policies that promote political stability, good governance, and peace, which would, in turn, create a conducive environment for economic growth and development.


1. Improve the agriculture sector: Agriculture is the backbone of South Sudan’s economy and provides employment to more than 70% of the population. However, the sector has been severely impacted by the civil war. The government must invest in infrastructure, irrigation systems, and modern farming techniques to revive the agriculture sector to improve productivity and increase output. This will help the farmers create jobs and sustainable livelihoods in the rural areas and ensure food security for the entire country.


2. Attract foreign direct investment (FDI): South Sudan has immense natural resources, including oil, minerals, and timber. The government needs to create a conducive environment for foreign investors by improving the legal and regulatory framework, reducing corruption, and ensuring the security of investments. This will create job opportunities for ordinary South Sudanese citizens and boost economic growth.


3. Encourage entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): SMEs are the backbone of any developing economy, and South Sudan is no exception. The government can encourage entrepreneurship and build a thriving private sector to generate employment and contribute to economic growth by providing financial support and training and creating a business-friendly environment.


4. Focus on infrastructure development: The country has an inadequate network of roads, railways, river transport, and airports, which hinders trade and investment. Hence, the government needs to invest in infrastructure development to improve connectivity and provide an enabling environment for businesses. This will improve the movement of goods and services through a robust supply chain pulled, especially by the infrastructure sector’s operational construction and transportation sub-sectors.


5. Implement policies that promote political stability, good governance, and peace: Political stability, good governance, and peace are critical for economic growth and development. This is because businesses require a stable political environment in order to play a crucial role in the economic growth and development of a country. The government must, therefore, create a conducive environment for businesses by implementing policies that promote political stability, good governance, and peace. This will not only attract foreign investors but will also encourage local investors to invest in the country. 


In conclusion, South Sudan could rebuild its economy and achieve prosperity. The government must focus on improving agriculture, attracting foreign direct investment, promoting entrepreneurship, and investing in infrastructure development. By implementing the right economic policies, South Sudan can overcome the challenges of the civil war, achieve sustainable economic growth, and embark on the path to poverty eradication.





South Sudan: Institutions for Job Creation and Sustainable Livelihoods

South Sudan: Institutions for Job Creation and Sustainable Livelihoods

Work is essential to emotional thriving and stable communities. Engagement in work is essential to the full realization of being human. Unwilling idleness not only brings material suffering. Idleness gives rise to feelings of alienation from the on-going life of the community. Alienation is a psychological condition of estrangement between the individual and the world in which that individual must survive and flourish. A more serious aspect of unwanted idleness is that it can lead to civil conflict as young males confront a life without economic security and the hope of family formation. A reliable predictor of social unrest is the unemployment rate among males aged 16-30. What are the institutional impediments for meaningful employment in South Sudan? Why has job creation failed to materialize?

Country Policy and Instituational Environment

Country Policy and Instituational Environment

South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9, 2011. Eight years later it is still not a coherent state. Coherent states require two essential attributes—one of which is structural in nature, the second of which concerns processes. When these two necessary conditions are absent, the economy cannot perform its necessary functions, and civil conflict is inevitable. These necessary structural and procedural parameters are institutions.

South Sudan: The Institutional Environment For Service Delivery

South Sudan: The Institutional Environment For Service Delivery

South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9, 2011. Eight years later it is still not a coherent state. Coherent states require two essential attributes—one of which is structural in nature, the second of which concerns processes. When these two necessary conditions are absent, the economy cannot perform its necessary functions, and civil conflict is inevitable. These necessary structural and procedural parameters are institutions.

Reducing the Resource Gap in the FY2019/2020 Proposed Budget Through Transparency and Accountability in the Management of Oil Revenues

 Abstract: The FY2019/2020 draft budget of the Government of Republic of South Sudan (GRSS), which is going through various stages of parliamentary reading at the Transitional National Legislature (TNL), has a huge resource gap of SSP77 billion (or USD497 million)! The central premise of this paper is that this gap could be reduced significantly through innovative approaches within the overall framework for transparent and accountable management of   GRSS’ share of oil revenues. 

Reducing The Resource Gap in the FY2019

Risk Assessment of the Mining Industry In South Sudan: Towards a Framework For Transparency and Accountability

Risk Assessment of the Mining Industry – Peter Adwok Nyaba July 2019

This study, “Risk Assessment of the Mining Industry in South Sudan: Towards a Framework for Transparency and Accountability”, was commissioned by Ebony Center for Strategic Studies. It commenced in the second week of May 2019 and was completed by the first week of June. Mr. Azaria Gillo, a geologist working in the Ministry of Mining was my research assistant and his contribution led to the success of the research work. I thank him very much.