Can corruption be minimized in South Sudan?

Quote: “What matters most in life is not the amount of property or wealth you leave behind; but the number of lives you have transformed into better life through your service”. (Source unknown)

By Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan

March 13, 2011 (SSNA) — The revelations by the whistle-blower website, the wiki leaks last year, are a big blow to some African countries; especially those that were on the road to re-establishing themselves as democratic nations, and who were striving to also restore the tarnished image and reputation in the eye of their citizenry and that of the world.

According to these revelations, Kenya, our sisterly neighboring country was said to be the most corrupt country in the horn of Africa, though it’s not the only country to get such rating for good or bad reasons. Kenya should be consoled that it’s not the only country to fall under this unfortunate predicament or labeling, especially in the horn of Africa, there are many others too. Even though there are a lot of controversies surrounding these revelations and the fact that it exposed such corrupt countries; the veracity and credibility of these revelations cannot be denied altogether!

Talking about corruption, I am reminded of a very powerful encounter I had with one immigration officer at Juba international airport, in South Sudan, last year. I was travelling to Nairobi for my exams when the immigration officer (his name withheld) shamelessly asked for money after stamping my passport on exit to the foreign country. However, this was not the first time this had happened; they used to take money for exit visa from me and every other South Sudanese, who frequently travel abroad, so business was just as usual.

That day I decided to inquire from him as to why I was being charged for exit visa as if I am a foreigner, thus I decided to be hard on him that particular day. I told him point blank that I will not pay the required fee unless he explained to me why I was being charged yet I am a Sudanese or South Sudanese, and whose 10 (now 15%) percent of his monthly income goes to the government every month. The guy became furious with me over my queries, which he saw as non-compliance to their open corrupt practices and exposing them to the general public, hence, I was causing a terrible situation for them since other passengers were keenly listening to our conversation-turned-bitter; at the airport that day. To make matters worse, everytime you give them money for stamping the passport, they don’t give you a receipt as a proof that its something official.

He tried to justify the act by saying that it’s the old system of the Sudan government, which by then used to charge Sudanese nationals for exit visas and that was even during the war; that money was used to help sponsor militias to fight their proxy wars in the South. Then I asked him again, now the war has stopped, after the CPA was signed and the government of Southern Sudan was accorded self-rule, (though part of the old Sudan); with its own sources for revenues collection as clearly defined by the constitutions.

The logical question that I asked him was: which militias has the government of Southern Sudan been supporting using the illegally collected money from the Southern Sudanese at JIA? The guy paused for a minute and decided not to answer the question but instead argued saying if I am not satisfied with the indignant treatment then I should go and raise the complaint with the parliament. He decided to let go of me and gave back the 50 dollars to me.

Corruption, with all its forms, has been the common practice and the order of day’s business in our government in the South over the last five or six years of the interim period. Millions of dollars was found put into the coffins as dead bodies being transported back to their foreign countries by the first and former minister of Finance and economic planning – government of southern Sudan. The same thing happened again with the Dura or grain saga, in which millions of dollars were also lost in corruption spree by the second minister of finance, his cronies and the dubious companies claiming to have delivered the food to the ten states of Southern Sudan. Two million dollars was caught from a certain gentleman in his briefcase at the airport in the UK, which he said was meant for building or setting up embassy there.

Corruption unveiled recently by the international aid agencies or donors in the police force is another serious blow. They’ve now threatened to withhold their money for lack of accountability and transparency, marred by corruption in the ministry of internal affairs led by Gier Chuang and his inspector general of police, Acuil Tito. Corruption is also prevalent in various government departments in South Sudan. But what is worrying is that no one implicated in corruption –related crimes has ever been taken to court to answer charges, except for the innocent Josephine Lagu, the former undersecretary in the ministry of education who was incriminated to have been involved in the scandalous act of diverting students’ money into private account in Uganda. She was later acquitted of all the charges brought against her by the court!

The two former finance ministers are just moving freely in Juba and are getting maximum protection by their kinsmen, if not the state. We are not trying to paint a grim picture of our government but we have to be open and honest and hold the government to account, as responsible citizens of this nation in the making!

With all that mentioned afore, the only question a concerned and sound-minded person may ask is: can corruption be minimized in South Sudan, given the magnitude? In my view, yes, it can be minimized. But only if people are committed to the rule of law; that is no one should be above the law and only if we adopt the culture of constitutionalism. If laws are followed or enforced then we can be sure that this could be minimized to a certain lower degree. We are not talking about total eradication of this social vice – because it’s nearly impossible to eradicate it, we can only minimize it.

Corruption poses a serious challenge to socio-economic development and impoverishes citizen’s lives. We can attest it to lack of service delivery over the last five years or so and this is undeniable fact. It also undermines democracy and good governance by subverting formal legal processes like we’d seen during the last general elections in 2010. It seriously undermines the legitimacy of any government and its democratic values such as trust and political tolerance needed for viability of the state. Given the corruption of the highest order in the government of Southern Sudan, could one be wrong to assert that this is Kleptocracy? Which literally means ”rule by thieves” because it’s like no one is clean in the current government, they all dipped their fingers into it.

A practical example is that of the Nile Commercial Bank (NCB), which was liquidated by the big shoots in 2009 due to exgratia payments of loans. The top echelons of government took advantage of Kiir’s administration inertia to rigorously fight corruption and to honor his words. His slogans such as “determined to fight corruption” zero tolerance to corruption” towards South Sudan free of corruption, etc” are wonderful but wanting. This is also known as neologism Kleptocracy! Is Kiir a man of his words? I doubt! Because if these slogans/words (bearing his photos in the billboards) were translated into action then, we wouldn’t be talking about corruption now; perhaps may be about other things, unless one is not in his rightful mind.

In conclusion, there is no dispute on the fact that corruption is deeply entrenched into our system, be it blood system or government system, we have seen it over the years. We need to acknowledge the fact that we cannot totally eradicate it as has been on the lips of many people – government officials included, it can only be minimized. Giving someone a position because he/she is a close relative to you, which is called nepotism, other than on ability it’s a form of corruption. Giving positions to people based on royalty other than ability is called patronage, and it’s also a form of corruption; a case in point is the SPLM accommodating its comrades based on royalty and not on ability to do. Issuing contracts illegally to friends’ companies is called cronyism and it’s also a form of corruption, and other nefarious activities etc.

So my humble view and opinion, I would opine that we adhere to the rule of law as the only central pillar of good governance in the new nation. We need to establish strong institutions and strengthen the already existing ones. Parliament as the government’s watchdog and law-making organ of the government needs to re-double efforts in order to fight and minimize corruption. The laws are and have been there but the only thing missing is: who to enforce them? Even the interim constitution of Southern Sudan, currently under review shall not realize its fundamental objectives if our leaders continue to be hubris on the supreme law of the land.

It will need constant nurturing by the people of goodwill! We would be lying unto our good self were we to say that we want corruption to be totally eradicated, it’s nearly impossible, if not completely impossible!

The author is a concerned Southern Sudanese living in South Sudan. He can be reached at [email protected]

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