Corruption saga in the government of South Sudan: Are there rays of hope so far?

By: John Bith Aliap, Adelaide, Australia

June 10, 2012 (SSNA) — The answer to this question might be on the lips of poor South Sudanese who have their economic right roped by the people who claim to be their representatives. With food prices sky rocketed, the poor South Sudanese are left languishing from all sorts of economic hardships stemming out from rampant corruption and closure of oil production in the last months. In our contemporary South Sudan, corruption is widespread and people are even accepting to live with it fatalistically as integral part of their culture.

These unethical practices have put South Sudanese in dire economic hardships. Racing with time to make the ends meet characterizes the daily living in a volatile economic environment of South Sudan where majority of poor people are depending on almost one dollar a day according to the United Nation South Sudan’s poverty estimation. As alarming as it can be, talks of corruption scandals  in South Sudan always fill the air and dominate most of social forums, but its actors were not yet know until when the President of Republic of South Sudan Lt. Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit made a rare announcement last week and I quote:

"The amnesty will substitute impending prosecution. Those who will return stolen money will not be embarrassed because they will remain anonymous. If funds are returned the government of the Republic of South Sudan will grant amnesty and will keep your name confidential. I and only one other official will have access to this information the president assured the accused corrupt officials’’. (Gurtong, 8th June 2012).

Analyzing the above president’s statement, the author of this paper dares to argue that the president must be reminded that he should be mindful of reciprocals implications that are associated with issues being considered at the political levels when issuing the so-called amnesty to either rebels groups or in controversial cases like corruption currently in the heart of debate.

Granting amnesty to current and previous government officials implicated in corruption scandals could be understood and perceived as a worse miscarriage of justice since corruption is an act that contravenes the rule of law. To pull itself out from public mistrust and restore the little reputation left, the government should punish the officials found responsible for corruption practices. This if done, will show government’s seriousness in its said quest of ending endemic corruption that characterizes the government of the day and restore the image of the government nationally and internationally.

In other countries-especially in some developed countries like Australia for instance, ordinary people have indisputable right to question their representatives over any suspicious attempts or allegations of corruption, but in countries like the Republic of South Sudan where the government frequently claims to be on the right tracks, corruption topic remains a no go zone for both journalists and other concerned groups.

The people of South Sudan have elusively been whispering about corruption with gigantic fear of retribution from the government officials. However, few brave people like journalists and human rights activists have already asked the government of South Sudan to purge itself of corruption tendencies and pave ways for rapid growth and development in a country which has been divested by two decades of civil war. The national government in Juba has committed many errors-especially in economic-related areas and this has not been a true reflection of the concept of ‘taking town to people’ provision of the national priority according to late Garang, the founder of people’s movement.

The most significant factor of concern among South Sudanese has been the high levels of corruption within the government and this may continue to affect the relationship between the peoples and their government, unless the government finds a way out of this ill-practice called corruption. Public calls have frequently been met with fierce resistance from the government officials who suspiciously been behind the current corruption raging in the government, but thank to the president when he announced that he has sent a letter to;

‘’over 75 officials that over US $4 billion remained unaccounted for between the years 2005 and 2006 and that most of the stolen funds have been taken out of the country and deposited into foreign bank accounts, adding that some of these funds have been used for purchasing properties, often ‘paid in cash. The president  has expressed his  grief over the huge stolen money when he stated that the people of South Sudan and the international community are alarmed by the levels of corruption in the country’’. (Gurtong, 8th June 2012).

In fact, the above statement truly reflects the feelings of pain and devastation among the people of South Sudan and the international community as they are obviously alarmed by the levels of corruption within the government of South Sudan as acknowledged by the president in his own words. Voices of wisdom across the country have called on the government of South Sudan to adequately address corruption and its associated challenges. These calls have often fall on the deaf hears from the government. The government of South Sudan should be reminded that failure to address corruption would likely constitute as a potential source of conflict between the government and the people-thus threatening sustainable needed peace in the country which has recently been engulfed by rebellions. The success of the president’s call on corrupt officials to return embezzled public funds to aid the ailing economy could well determine the success or failure of South Sudan government in its ability to government the country.

Although president Kiir has stated in his concluding remark on his alleged corrupt government officialsthat ‘corruption has no place in my government and that it is a practice of greediness at the expenses of South Sudanese people who are languishing from poverty and lack of basic services and infrastructure in their hard won infant nation’ (Gurtong, 8th June 2012).

However,the corruption free government which the president was preaching to the public in his speech is the same government in which its top officials are said to be major players in the current allegations of corruption scandals. The circumstances surrounding Kiir’s innocence whether he has participated in corruption dancing or not are not yet known, but his song of zero tolerance policy on corruption may at least clear him out from corruption equation. The president must acknowledge that although he has not took his share in corruption saga, the corruption has truly took place in his present-especially within the government he leads and he has blatantly done nothing to stop these corrupt officials from mismanaging the public funds.  

As far as the people of South Sudan are concerned, zero tolerance policy has not been the first of its kind for our president. President Kiir has made myriad remarks concerning the corruption allegations in his government. Though corruption nightmare continues to be on our lips, the government of South Sudan has yet identifies its perpetrators and the search is apparently continuing within the government while citizens are patiently waiting to see robbers of their economic right brought to justice. Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan has been singing a zero tolerance policy, but this policy has seen no progress in the last few years. Early in 2009, Kiir sarcastically declared that "I wish to send a crystal clear message to all those who are involved or may get involved in corruption in Southern Sudan in the future. Rest assured the Government of South Sudan will prosecute you. You can run but you cannot hide. I assure you that the long arm of the Law will catch you…If you swallow something that belongs to the people, we will force you to vomit it out "General Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Government of Southern Sudan (Sudan Tribune report, 2009).

Despite this strong worded statement, the corruption in the government has continued to reach the highest climax and its plays according to analysts seem to be protective of each other. Kiir’s statement that the ‘long arm of the law could reach those accused of corruption wherever they might be’, had not translate into reality on some individuals such as Pagan Amum and the rest of top government officials who are unreachable by the long arm of government which the president was preaching.

In its attempt to end corruption in the country, the government of the Republic of South Sudan established the so-called Anti-Corruption Commission, a commission meant to accommodateKiir’s anti-graft rhetoric and assurances to the international community, but there has been no any government official prosecuted for corruption charges since the SPLM came to power in 2005. The Anti-Corruption Commission is in itself a part of corruption since its staff are paid despite not fulfilling its mandate.

Last week, the Anti-Corruption Commission announced that it has recovered an estimated $60m from various sources from fraudulent transactions and misappropriation of funds by government institutions (Sudan Tribune May 26th 2012). This announcement would have been more convincing and trustworthy enough if the commission had disclosed the names of institutions or particular individuals in which it has recovered the funds from; otherwise the commission might have intended this statement for media consumption, public appeasement and perhaps building the lost public trust that the commission is fulfilling its mandate; and that chances of recovering stolen funds are near the corner.

The war on corruption seems to be a difficult war compared to previous war when South Sudanese citizen turned up in massive numbers in the first movement to initiate the fight for their freedom, justice and prosperity. A similar commitment was also repeated in 1983 when the current ruling part, the SPLM and Anya-Nya two groups went to the bush to continue their historical left over war of liberation against Khartoum regime. However, such commitments have not gone without tangible achievements, but resulted to the birth of a new nation in which the tsunami of corruption is presently taking place.

Whilst South Sudanese have recently escaped all forms of injustices under the pre-united Sudan, corruption remains a grave threat to South Sudan’s progress and its stability. The extent and magnitude of corruption was kept under the bed until Steven Wondu, the Auditor General of South Sudan Audit Chambers presented a heart-felt report to the National Legislative Assembly. The report revealed shocking financial discrepancies in which over $ 4 billion went uncounted for within the government since 2005 (South Sudan Nation). 

Some people may think that corruption in South Sudan is a recent phenomenon, but it has its roots way back during the movement. Corruption as a taboo in South and perhaps unspeakable topic, Mr. Akuin Chol, the former finance minster was the first one to ring the belt of corruption, but some analysts see Mr. Akuin’s move as an attempt to smoke screen his financial mismanagement. Before we accord him with credit for spilling the beans, it would be worthwhile to research further into his biography which may be riddled with financial scandals.  While Mr. Chol was in charge of the movement’s finances, Kiir before becoming president complained about corruption in the movement.  This was in November 2004 meeting held in Rumbek. Mr. Kiir stated that;  

“I would like to say something about rampant corruption in the movement.  At the moment some members of the Movement have formed private companies, bought houses and have huge bank accounts in foreign countries.  I wonder what kind of system we are going to establish in South Sudan considering ourselves indulged in this respect.” (Minutes of Rumbek’s Meeting 2004). The people of South Sudan are still asking this question today as to what kind of country are the people of South Sudan and their government would want to establish with corruption as founding principle of government institutions.  

South Sudan has no effective institutions which are capable to effectively offset corruption practices. The speedy acquittal of Pagan Amum (Secretary General of the SPLM party) for example, reveals the long anticipated vulnerability of South Sudan’s judiciary system and how it can easily be manipulated by the political elites to advance their self-centered interests. In the past few months, South Sudan ruling party secretary-general Pagan Amum won a rush court case brought against him by Mr. Athor Akuin Chol, the former minister of finance in the federal government. Mr. Akuin alleged that Pagan Amum secretary-general of SPLM party diverted $ 30 million public funds into his personal account in 2006. However, Pagan Amum did not last long before he could run to a feeble court which is administered by his comrades whom he hoped would rule the case in his favor.

In his thought to clear off his name from corruption allegations, Pagan Amum made his way to the court. This could be acknowledged as the first time of its kind in South Sudan’s history that a senior government official stands trial in the court of law. This move was seen by many South Sudanese as an impossible mission since most of powerful politicians in South Sudan are above the law. The people of South Sudan who had their funds stolen equate Mr. Akuin in corruption scandals, but he denied himself that he received orders from the above in order to transfer public funds, but declined to point his finger to president Kiir and other senior government officials who are understandably in the above which the former minister of finance, Mr. Akuin was referring to have directed him in releasing the funds.

The court analysed Amum’s corruption charges and declared that Amum is innocence and should not be charged due to the insufficient evidence presented. However, the public funds remain uncounted for and question remains who exactly have stolen the public money? To make the matter worse, the court ordered two independent newspapers, The Citizens and Al Masir to pay 100,000 South Sudanese Pounds to compensate Pagan Amum as his reputation was damaged by false corruption allegations. The court further asks these newspapers to publish an ‘official apology’ within fifteen days, otherwise the court statement reads, the fines will increase to one million South Sudanese pounds in three months (SudanTtribune reported 2012). What does such ruling tell us? With no doubt, it tells us that the system installed in the Republic of South Sudan is a system designed to benefits few individuals on the expenses others-specifically the powerless. Both Al Misar and Citizen News paper became victims of the system and made to pay fines and asked to compensate Pagan Amum so that he could increase his already embezzled public funds.  

Are there any rays of hopes to ending corruption in the government of South Sudan? Despite the ongoing corruption saga within the government of South Sudan, the question we should all be asking ourselves and our government is whether there are available policies devised by the government to combat corruption. Given the enormity of corruption, the people of South Sudan can still gather their chattered souls and see the lights of hopes once again and perhaps; windows of opportunities when the government applies the following policies in its would-be war against corruption:

1- The government of South Sudan should empower Anti-Corruption Commission with constitutional powers so that it is able to prosecute and imprison those found to have stolen public funds;

2- Explicitly take an action to further investigate the yet unknown corruption cases in line with international anti-corruption laws which should underpin the legal system in South Sudan in which corruption investigations are to be based;  

3- Desire to establish good government structures dissimilar to the current ones. More broadly, government structures that would be capable of meeting the anticipated intense resistance from the government corrupt officials;

4- Prosecute the present pending corruption cases to restore public trust and also deter other government officials who might be thinking of undertaking corruption practices in the future;

5- Regularly publish corruption-related information including; the amount of public funds embezzled by individuals government officials and bank accounts details in which the stolen funds are deposited;

6- Strengthen accountability in all sectors of the government-meaning reaching out to parliament, judiciary, civil society, academia, media and community groups to provide checks and balances on the executive branch by the formal institutions of accountability as well as a vigilant public and civil society;

7- Political reform should be necessary in order to improve government’s accountability and strengthen oversight institutions, sectoral governance, local government and enhancing voices of the public;

8- And finally, if the government ignores to implement these steps to reduce or end corruption, then the civil society organizations across South Sudan should form broad anti-corruption campaigns to raise public awareness about corruption practices in their government. This typical campaign may rise government’s eye brows and force it to look into the issue of corruption cautiously.

In conclusion, corruption in South Sudan has reached its alarming stage and its continuation may potential affect the relationship between the government and the people it governs. Implementing the above mentioned steps will likely reduce its magnitude and restore the public trust which is now on the verge of collapse. The government of South Sudan should entail commitment in its war against corruption together with ordinary South Sudanese citizens who are not working in the government. This will help the government to adequately protect the public funds from being stolen.

Corruption as a no go zone topic in South Sudan, avoiding it of being discussed in the public domains, because it may be uncomfortable topic for government officials is not appropriate and may fuel public mistrust towards the government and tension between the government and the people it governs may arise. South Sudan being a country where chances of getting caught are low and the potential rewards is high, punishment on its own will likely provide a real disincentive to corrupt government officials’ behavior.

For those who may find themselves in South Sudan’s war against corruption, these people are to be warned that the beneficiaries of corruption owe their careers and status in corruption-related practices and I reckon that many of them will likely take stand against the would-be corruption elimination policy war. This can be either for fear of upsetting their own careers or the political status quo they generally been enjoying.

The author of this work is a concerned South Sudanese citizen and can be corresponded at [email protected].

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