Empowering journalists to report on public financial management

Funded by the UN Sustainable Development Goals fund, the project will be eventually expanded to other states.

Richard Ruati
Ministry of Finance technocrats
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ruati
27 June 2022

Aweil, South Sudan - UNICEF South Sudan is supporting local media houses and journalists to report on pertinent issues in regional areas in the country, including access to health care, education, nutrition and public financial management.

UNICEF South Sudan facilitated journalists to report on the progress of a two-year Joint Programme on public financial management in Yambio and Aweil. UNICEF trained over 50 government officials on public financial management across Western Equatoria, Central Equatoria and Northern Bahr el Ghazal States, as part of the programme supported by the UN Joint SDG Fund to strengthen Public Financial Management and Budget Allocations to Critical Social Services in South Sudan.

The programme empowered officials to increase budget allocations to various social service sectors. Allocating more resources to critical social services and ensuring efficient, effective and transparent budget utilisation is expected to strengthen resilience as well as social cohesion, and ultimately benefit many people, particularly the most vulnerable groups, including children and women.

In a recent trip to Aweil to cover the programme, journalists interviewed several people involved, including UNICEF staff and Government officials.

Eliaba Yona Damundu, UNICEF Social Policy Specialist
Eye Radio/Obaj Okuj
Eliaba Yona Damundu, the Social Policy Specialist with UNICEF South Sudan, outlines the project's core objectives.

“The capacity building component of the joint programme enables the State Ministries responsible for reporting all public funds provided by their State ministry of finance to report back to Juba, so that there is a complete circle of disbursement and reporting. The programme has certainly improved these mechanisms and strengthened the skills and capacities of those responsible for public financial management,” said Eliaba Yona Damundu, Social Policy Specialist with UNICEF South Sudan, while being interviewed by journalists.

The programme provided capacity building to State ministries of Finance, Education, Local Government and Health officials in the area of budgeting, accountability, monitoring and reporting.

"With this capacity building, our reporting system has improved. Before this training, we did not know how to plan, budget, account and report back on financial expenditures. Also, we can now plan social services to include vulnerable women and children," said Angelo Atuer, Director of Planning in the State Ministry of Finance in Aweil, Northern Bahr el Ghazal State.

The programme aims to secure a 2% increase in budget allocations to national priorities and social services in order to ensure achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

During the media engagement in Yambio, Mr. Tambua Aquila, Director for Planning and Statistics in Western Equatoria State said that the training has empowered government officials to account for funds received, either money from the national government or money collected locally within the State.

South Sudanese journalists interviewing Government civil servants
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ruati
South Sudanese journalists interviewing Government civil servants who benefited from Public Finance Project in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State (NBG)

Public budget allocations to social sectors remain low in South Sudan: in the 2019/20 financial year, only 1% of public spending went to health, 5% to education and 2% to social and humanitarian affairs. The Revised National Development Strategy (R-NDS) aims to ensure that at least 15% of South Sudan's National Budget is allocated to social services.

As a reporter at Eye Radio, Charles Wote covers stories on health, peace, security, development, economy, entrepreneurship and human-interest stories, and climate change across South Sudan.

In 2021, Wote visited the devastated Bor County of Jonglei State, where he reported on the impact of flooding on the local population and humanitarian assistance in the region.

In January this year, he travelled with UNICEF support to Northern Bahr el Ghazal State to report on the impact of floods on education and nutrition, especially affecting children.

"Whenever I travel with UNICEF to areas where they provide support, I normally come back with untold stories from hard-to-reach areas," he said.

"The field visits make it easier for me to listen and interact directly with local officials and those people benefitting from support provided to different areas of South Sudan."

Assisting national media professionals to go to different places in the country where stories are playing out is very important to focus people’s attention on what is happening throughout the country.

Wek Atak of the Juba Monitor newspaper has travelled to the field and extensively covered stories related to public finance and many other issues. For him, being a journalist is a noble mission. But, he says, "it is essential to be in the field and hear directly from the beneficiaries and communities.”

Through these media missions, he tries to find original stories for his audience; he admits that gathering accurate information has become very difficult, especially in states where access is limited, and media houses find it difficult to dispatch journalists to the field. Support from humanitarian agencies to facilitate local journalists to travel every now and then is helping to change the situation and allows for more reporting from remote areas.