South Sudan starts on a scandalous noteBy MACHEL AMOS in Juba | Monday, July 9 2012 at 14:43
Cases of corruption in South Sudan have been on the rise since 2005, when the region gained special autonomy from Khartoum, under a peace deal. The peace agreement ended two decades of war with the Sudanese government (starting in 1983) and provided for formal independence of South Sudan in July last year following a landslide vote.
One year on, there are no indications that prevalent graft will be reversed anytime soon.
So far, at least $4 billion has gone missing under the noses of former and current government officials since 2005, according to the office of the president, an amount that could finance the new country’s budget for two years. This includes some $200 million that varnished from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning coffers in 2009, through a controversial grain scam.
In the same year, $323,000 disappeared from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, having been deposited into a private bank account when it should have been paid as tuition for students studying in East Africa.
Between 2005 and 2006, at least $1.5 billion was spent without proper account statements, according to a report by the Auditor General Chamber.
Peter Biar, the Director for the Center for Strategic Research and Analysis in Juba, said “the institutions of the government are very weak” and as such, they are too vulnerable to embezzlement and mismanagement. “Just imagine, in 2006 when trying to establish a payroll; you did not even know how many people you were paying. No clear understanding about what happens if really there is money that is left over and no really direction from the government about the financial management,” Mr Biar said.
“Sometimes, we feel after being in the wilderness for over twenty years, we now have to reward ourselves by looting own ourselves,” Biar added. He notes that the utter inaction against suspected individuals has set a bad precedence that has ghastly inculcated the sense of impunity.
In the same vein, Biar added, there have been no proper finance management laws until recently when the parliament passed Public Finance Management Act. But no big fish has been prosecuted yet.
Deputy Speaker of the national assembly, Daniel Awet Akot, agreed that the distressing theft in government institutions is a challenge associated with the transition from guerilla administration into institutional management.
“People just received the money. There was no ministry of finance. There was no proper banking system. So it was your gratitude to share the money,” Akot said, referring to the root cause of corruption way back in 2005.
On May 3, President Salva Kiir, in an effort to recover the stolen funds, wrote to 75 government officials, asking them to return the loot. And by responding favorably to the call, Kiir clarified, the officials in question would be accorded amnesty and their names will remain confidential.
Among the 75 are former minister of Petroleum and Mining Lual Achuek, who served in Khartoum ahead of secession, and former Public Service Minister Awut Deng Achuil, who resigned last year.
Both officials, who still hold seats in the national assembly, said they are ready to clear their names and urged the remaining 73 to come out openly.
In an apparent effort to clear her name, Awut published two account numbers with Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) in Nairobi, another with KCB in Juba and the fourth with Equity in Juba for scrutiny.
For President Kiir, his reign has already had a stint due to the vice, observers say. According to a diplomat in the ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kiir occasionally gets confronted by western donors who say you are “stealing your own money,” referring to the people of South Sudan
“So then, it does not make the President look good when he sits among his peers,” the diplomat said.
From within, Kiir’s presidency is surrounded by a “complex web of activities,” Biar said. In 2013, his ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party is holding a national convention to reorganize the party.
It might cost Kiir his seat as party chairman -- although unlikely for the moment – if he takes drastic measures against the 75 who could be bigwigs in the party, pundits say. “It is either he protects them or they lose it altogether,” said one. “There are prospects for Salva [Kiir] maintaining the status quo to first consolidate himself,” said another, a lecturer at Juba University.
On the other hand, observers say the culture of ethnicity that has consistently failed to distinguish between an individual and a tribe could plunge Kiir’s presidency into tribal opposition should he take bold decisions to punish suspected thieves.
“So now, the ethnic dimension of all of these, putting in the security, is a very complex web of activities, putting in also how the public is responding to this sort of thing,” said Biar.
Kiir therefore appears keen to balance the demand of the public and donors on one hand, and protection of weighty party officials on the other.
Although ethnic tension has apparently subsided, insecurity within Juba is yet to fade.
Spontaneous, deadly shooting in the city suburbs are rampant in what the police attribute to presence of arms in the hands of some civilians. The police also say the porous border has been allowing criminals on the run to cross into the country from neighboring countries.
Deputy Interior Minister Salva Mathok Gengdit said the police is largely illiterate and lacks capacity and blames the insecurity on what he calls the inadequate community policing.
Returnees and refugees
After the secession of South Sudan in July, 2011, thousands of southerners were stripped off their citizenship in Sudan. About 12,000 South Sudanese that were stranded at Kosti port waiting to return home were airlifted to Juba by the International office of Migration (IOM). Some 127 returned this month from Israel.
However, the number of refugees from the troubled Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states is much higher than of the returnees.
There are over 150,000 refugees in South Sudan, according to estimates by the UN refugee agency.
South Sudan also hosts about 100,000 civilians displaced from the disputed Abyei region when Sudan Armed Forces seized the area in May last year.
Providing basic services to more than 8 million people has been a daunting challenge to the government in Juba.
The new country relies 98 per cent on revenues from oil, which it shut down last January due to quarrels with Sudan over transit fee for South Sudan to sell her oil at the export terminal in Port Sudan.
Over the past year, the Ministry of General Education and Instruction started the construction of eight child-friendly schools across the country, but not completed yet.
As part of delivering quality education, deputy Education minister Joshua Okwaci said two teachers’ training institutes have been constructed over the year in Maper in Lakes state and Kapuri in Juba with the funding from the Japanese government.
However, the new country is yet to get a curriculum, Okwaci said, in addition to laws to curb school drop-out among girls due to early pregnancy and forced marriages.
In health, $173 million has been directed to improving the conditions of health centers across the country.
President Salva Kiir in his speech to the parliament in June said $36 million was also being deployed to about 1000 clinics and hospital all over the country. However, maternal mortality rates remained high.
Within a year of independence, Juba is a construction site. Much of the construction is private given that government’s developmental projects are on hold due to the shutdown of oil. Hotel businesses are apparently booming for there are no proper estates as yet.
However, while there is no power all over the town, the small sections within the city center that receive power experience regular cuts. South Sudan is a large scale producer of oil but it lacks fuel. Vehicles line up in long queues to fill tanks.
Food prices have nearly doubled over the year, with annual inflation hitting a record high at 80 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The US dollars are scarce, resulting into an increase in the black currency market.
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