Corrupt officials have stolen $4bn from South Sudan – President Kiir
(Sudan Tribune) An estimated $4 billion of public money has been “stolen” by officials in South Sudan, according to a letter sent by President Salva Kiir’s to officials on 3 May.
Despite Kiir’s anti-graft rhetoric and assurances to the international community no official has been prosecuted for corruption since former rebels the SPLM came to power in 2005.
The letter, sent to 75 officials and individuals close to the government, offered an amnesty to those who returned the money, a move aimed at salvaging the 11-month-old nation’s reputation and help it recover from decades of civil war and underinvestment.
At the start of this year, South Sudan’s government lost 98% of its income when, after a transit fee dispute with Sudan, it stopped all oil-production. Reuters estimates that this figure could indicate that the revenue from one in every three barrels of oil South Sudan has exported since 2005 has been stolen.
Kiir’s letter requested the 75 addressees to account for the large sums of money they allegedly misappropriated and either deposited it in foreign bank account or invested in properties.
“We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people,” the letter read.
“The credibility of our government is on the line.”
Another letter from the presidency, a copy of which Sudan Tribune has obtained, also outlined a series of anti-corruption measures reportedly instituted in place through South Sudan Anti-Corruption Corruption (SSAC), all aimed at fighting corruption.
Civil society group the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), in a statement applauded the decision taken by the South Sudan leader, describing it as true political will in the fight against corruption which has for long deprived the masses of basic social services.
“A true fight of corruption must be realized because misappropriation of public funds is an enemy of development and the cause of human suffering,” CEPO’s statement partly stated.
South Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world, illustrated by its poor health and education statistics. Less than three in ten South Sudanese have basic literacy, and maternal mortality is among the world’s highest. Outside the capital there are hardly any paved roads.
SSAC recently announced it recovered about $60M of funds allegedly misappropriated by several unidentified officials.
More than 5,000 declarations of asset forms have since been issued out to various individuals in government as part of efforts by the anti-corruption body to fight graft, which threatens to destroy the nation less than a year since its independence. So far, 1,600 forms have been returned and are being reviewed.
President Kiir has also written to eight foreign governments in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the United States seeking their assistance in recovering all funds believed to have been misappropriated by former and current officials.
He also pledged amnesty to officials who will comply with the letter by depositing the stolen funds in a Kenya-based account, reportedly opened specifically for the purpose of recovering the said $4B.
“I am writing to encourage you to return these stolen funds (partial or full),” Kiir said in his letter.
“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,” he added.
Last year, a report released by the country’s Auditor General’s, showed over $1B also remained unaccounted for between 2005-06, in transfers of oil revenues from the Government of National Unity – the power and wealth sharing partnership in Khartoum created by 2005 peace deal – to the autonomous Government of South Sudan (GoSS) in Juba.
Kiir has often pledged to empower South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission (SSACC) as part of its policy on zero tolerance for corruption but as a US departmental report released last week reiterated, the body lacks power to prosecute those implicated in corruption.
South Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told Reuters that over half of the estimated $4 billion was from the infamous grain scandal, where large orders of sorghum were ordered but never delivered or distributed.
Hundreds of grain stores, to be used in emergencies, were also paid for but not built. Currently around half of South Sudan’s 8.6 million population is food insecure, with 1 million facing at risk of facing severe hunger, according to the UN. “It is a colossal sum,” Marial said.