Cablegate: North Darfur Legislative Council Shows Potential

DE RUEHKH #0958/01 1810902
P 290902Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) SUMMARY. The most recent session of the North Darfur
Legislative Council officially ended on June 25 following an
extension to finish all business before a four-month recess.
Although handicapped by a narrow mandate, and dominated by the
ruling National Congress Party (NCP), the appointed council members
continue to test the limits of their powers, calling the North
Darfur Minister of Education to task over poor performance and
irregularities within the ministry during this abbreviated session.
Council members have demonstrated commendable commitment to their
work, spending long hours poring over reports, questioning poor
performance by the executive branch, and voluntarily extending their
session until they were satisfied with their results. The
institutional foundation and capacity for local governance is
clearly strong in North Darfur, and a freely and democratically
elected legislative council would have much to contribute to local
stabilization and reconciliation efforts, provided it results from
legitimate, publicly supported and accepted elections. END

Legislative Council Authorities

2. (U) The North Darfur legislative council was established in its
current form by Article 180 of the Interim National Constitution of
2005, and has legislative jurisdiction primarily over the executive
and administrative matters of the state. Issues of policy are
largely concentrated under the "concurrent powers" shared by the
national and state governments. In practice, this means that the
state legislative council is sometimes asked to provide comments on
policies proposed by the national assembly, but does not have the
authority to accept or reject those proposals. In addition, the
legislative council exercises a monitoring function over the state
ministries, their budgets and their strategic plans. State
ministers are required to submit an annual report to the council,
which members either discuss or refer to committee. In North
Darfur, there are eight permanent technical committees (i.e.
Education and Health Committee, Local Governance and Public Works
Committee) that investigate and issue recommendations regarding the
ministries and their performance.

NCP Dominance Creates Tensions

3. (U) The council is currently comprised of 66 members, selected by
the Wali in accordance with the power sharing agreement struck by
the Darfur Peace Agreement (non-NCP members were generally selected
by movement leaders, and then approved by the Wali). Current
members will continue to sit on the council until the next
elections, which are supposed to take place before the end of 2009.
While the DPA reserved 12 seats for non-signatories, all seats in
the next council will be determined by direct election.

4. (U) 34 of the current members, or exactly one more than half,
belong to the ruling NCP and council members from Sudanese
Liberation Movement/Minni Minawi and Free Will (SLM/MM and SLM/FW)
have accused this group of "rubber stamping" ministry proposals by
cutting off discussion and forcing premature votes on contentious
issues. In addition, by calling a shortened session and
distributing proposals less than 24 hours before they are to be
discussed, SLM/FW reps claim that legislative council leadership
(all NCP officials) have created an environment in which "nothing
can be thoroughly studied, the NCP can pass anything, and there is
effectively no opposition." Although one member called his NCP
colleagues "bullies," he conceded that "until now, we, as
opposition, have been able to express our opinions freely within the
council and still have our immunity as members be respected outside
the council." No members from any party reported threats,
harassment, or intimidation in connection with their work on the

--------------------------------------------- --------
Ministry of Education Irregularities Top Agenda
--------------------------------------------- --------

5. (U) The most recent session of the North Darfur Legislative
Council, which began on May 21, officially ended on June 25
following the re-appointment of the Secretary General. During the
session, reports from ten state ministries were submitted and all
were approved without issue except that of the Ministry of
Education, which was referred to committee for further scrutiny.
While originally scheduled to recess on June 16, the legislative
session was extended in order to address unresolved issues with the
state Minister of Education's performance and plans. Concerned by a

KHARTOUM 00000958 002 OF 002

sharp decrease in student performance on primary school exams
(reftel), and reports that a different version of the national
secondary school test was used exclusively in North Darfur, council
members questioned the Minister on reasons for the irregularities
and measures that would be taken to avoid them in the coming
academic year.

6. (U) According to Secretary General Sami Abdulla, council members
insisted that scheduling conflicts with the Open University (where
many primary school teachers are taking classes) could not be used
as an excuse for poor performance, and pressed the minister to make
the necessary adjustments to the school calendar to ensure adequate
class time. The legislative council also disagreed with the
national Ministry of Education decision to give the students of
North Darfur a different version of the exam taken by all secondary
school students in Sudan due to security concerns, and called for a
substantial increase in teaching staff (NOTE: State Ministry of
Education staff told FieldOff that this was done in response to a
past incident in which rebels allegedly stole the exam and
distributed it across Sudan a week before it was scheduled to be
given. End Note). As a result of the council's proactive
intervention, schools in North Darfur began two weeks early and the
state Minister of Education, accompanied by the Chairman of the
Legislative Council, went to Khartoum to further discuss testing and
staffing issues.

7. (U) In addition to ministries' strategic plans, the Legislative
Council also considered two draft laws during the session. The
first, introduced by the Ministry of Culture, Youth Sports and
Tourism, aimed to license and regulate tourism related businesses,
to establish a tourism council to promote North Darfur, and to
establish a Tourism and Archaeology Protection Police Unit. This
law was passed and sent to the Wali for signature. The second,
sponsored by the Ministry of Health, dealt with environmental
conservation issues. As it included provisions relating to
agriculture, health, urban planning and natural resources, the
council tabled the proposal until the next session, requesting that
the relevant ministries work together in the interim to ensure that
all interests are represented in the bill before it is formally
introduced. Before closing the session, the council voted to
re-appoint Abdulla as Secretary General.


8. (U) Despite the absence of real opposition, and despite a narrow
mandate that reserves most substantive policy issues for the central
government, the Legislative Council turned in a relatively
impressive performance during the past session. Members are not
only reading and studying the proposals presented to the council,
but they are questioning discrepancies and holding government
officials accountable for poor performance. Rather than rushing to
finish their work, they took additional time to be sure that all
questions were answered to their satisfaction, and that all possible
solutions were being explored. That their efforts included
coordination with the National Assembly and federal ministries in
Khartoum also demonstrates the seriousness with which they approach
state government.

9. (SBU) The institutional foundation for local governance appears
to be good in North Darfur. Current membership demonstrates that
some real skills and capacity are also present. What is lacking is
the legitimacy conveyed by a freely and democratically elected
council. The Legislative Council could make substantial
contributions towards local stabilization and reconciliation
efforts. However, it will likely not be able to accomplish real
progress until it is composed of representatives elected through a
fully participatory and publicly accepted process, criteria that
hastily organized elections held in a climate of insecurity may not
meet. The challenges to holding successful elections in Darfur are
enormous and well known; the international community and the
Sudanese themselves must work toward creating the conditions that
will allow elections to occur, with maximum encouragement to IDPs to
participate, and maximum pressure placed on rebel groups not to


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