C. Equatoria State cabinet members and members of parliament at a past governance meeting.[File]
By Ngor Arol Garang
The nascent government of South Sudan on Friday says embarked on procedures to stop the illegal transfer of money to foreign banks.
Government officials and private businesses are believed to have siphoned off billions of dollars mostly from the oil revenues. South Sudan depends heavily from revenues from oil. Little attention is paid to none oil revenues.
Salvatore Garang Mabiordit, undersecretary in the ministry finance and economic development said in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Friday that the government is tightening regulations and making necessary arrangements with foreign countries to track money deposited by individual officials both from the government and companies
The government’s statement follows revelations made by anti corruption commission that the commission has gathered relevant information indicating the illicit transfer of public funds into accounts outside the region, which is due become independent in July in a referendum.
The governors latest statement appears to be in reaction to the public outcry caused by the announcement of the corruption allegations.
"Like any other concerned citizens and officials from south Sudan, the government is equally interested in unearthing and addressing such allegations but this cannot be done without assistance from the citizens” the banks governor said. “Bringing the money back from the countries to which they were stashed, if possible is not uneasy task that can be tackled by the government. It needs collective efforts. The ministry of finance does not persecute. It controls the public funds", explained Aleng.
Mabiordit, however, said the finance ministry would at the same time try to take serious steps to plug the loopholes through which these evasions have taken place. "What the ministry of finance can do is to educate all authorities to ensure that they embrace right procedures in their engagements. But again this requires collective efforts and public cooperation to ensure that financial rules and regulations are followed", he said.
Aleng, a senior member of the southern ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the SPLM, in 2009 threatened to name senior members of the government who have failed to pay back money they borrowed from the Nile Commercial Bank, which had contributed to the collapse of the first post-conflict indigenous financial institution to South Sudan.
The Nile Commercial Bank first operated in areas controlled by the SPLM in the areas they controlled during the North-South civil war, which ended in 2005 after over two decades of conflict.
The bank was first headquartered in Yambio, capital of Western Equatoria in between 2002 and 2003 when it begun to operate before it was moved to Rumbek, capital of Lakes state, which used to be one of the headquarters of the former rebel movement.
With the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 and the leadership of the SPLM and the bank moved to Juba, where it started to operate with financial assistance from the newly established SPLM dominated government of South Sudan.
In 2008, the bank started granting loans to individuals with agreement to pay them back within a specific period but most of the beneficiaries failed to meet the deadlines. The bank did not receive enough support to make up for this short-fall and the bank collapsed in 2009.
Following the collapse of the bank the southern government has been under pressure to name those accused of not paying back the loans but so far it has refused to identify them. The South Sudan government has also not announced the officials believed to have secret bank accounts. The names are reported to have been verified by the anti-graft commission.
An official from anti-corruption commission, who requested anonymity as they were not permitted to speak to the media, told Sudan Tribune: "Today if the anti-corruption commission reveals the secrecy and names of those whose accounts were found in the foreign countries, day after tomorrow the other countries to which these money has been stashed will not give us information. They will raise accusing fingers against us that you do not meet international commitment."
"The anti corruption [commission] does not have legal authority to persecute. Our mandate is limited to gathering information and filing cases to the ministry of legal affairs and constitutional development in the government of south Sudan", he adds.
The government’s clarifications have not satisfied the public and members of opposition political parties. Some have accused the government of being vague about the measures being taken to crack down on corrupt and illegal practices in South Sudan.
Tong Lual Ayat, the chairman of the United Democratic Party (UDP), said the government and the commission has the duty to act.
"There is a widespread discontentment from the public surrounding the way the commission deals with issues connected to corruptions. The commission has the duty to act. Effective measures against misappropriation of public funds and money laundering need to be enforced so that the public retains confidence in the government commitment to combat this disease”, Ayat said.
"The president [of South Sudan] has said it time and again that there is no room for corruption. Legal procedures must be followed so that identified corrupt individuals whether members of the government or from business communities are brought to book before the public", said Ayat.
"Our people want meaningful action and not elusive replies. The president has given the clear mandate to the anti corruption commission to conduct investigation and report to the relevant institutions like the ministry of legal affairs and constitutional development," he said.
The government has been under pressure to address graft after a series of corruption scandals were exposed in recent months. A group of prominent civil society organizations and faith based groups have called on political leaders to address rising corruption and a governance deficit in the country. Graft and insecurity are two of the key concerns South Sudan has at it approaches independence from the north in July following a referendum.
The 28 signatories of the open letter to president of the government of south Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, seen by Sudan Tribune on Friday on the subject. Signatories include judges and religious leaders, including Bishop Isaac Dhieu from Episcopal Church of Sudan.
The letter says they want a war declared against corruption, saying it corrodes the fabric of the nation.
The letter also expresses alarm at what it calls a widespread governance deficit in the government, businesses and institutions. The spotlight has been on official graft after allegations that the government still needs to pay 400 contractors who claimed to have delivered grains to various states in the region.
In 2008 presidential and legislative directives instructed the ministry of finance to buy grain to be stocked and sold at subsidized prices during a food shortage. However the project was mishandled, resulting in loss of an estimated $200 million of dollars, with some companies still claiming they are owed money from the scheme. Many of the companies are believed to have been fronts used to gain payments from the government.
Mayuen Akot Madut, a primary teacher in Turalei Twic County, Warrap State, in an interview with Sudan Tribune said the letter reflects the growing concern about the impact that graft could have on economic growth in the region.
"I think there is a widespread fear in the middle class and in the public nobility that the progress that South Sudan has been making in the last six years can be sustained if there is no political commitment to reform the process. The political system we have today is corrupt beyond belief and the rebellion is coming out against it from all over (society).
"If no actions are enforced, I believe the situation will deteriorate and this will encourage disgruntled groups to follow General George Athor. There will be economic rebellion. There will be many Athor’s in the bush if nothing is done. Something needs to be done before it is too late", commented Madut.
Athor has led a rebellion in Jonglei state after losing his bid to become the state’s governor in last year’s April elections.
However, officials from the SPLM-led government, whose credibility has been hit because of the allegations of corruption, have promised to punish those found guilty of graft.
Dominic Deng Kuoc Malek, commissioner of Twic county and a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), has described corruption a "disease spreading in our society," and says measures must be adopted to curb it.
Commissioner Malek also said although it is widely accepted that graft, which ranges from petty bribes to bigger kickbacks, is not a part of life of South Sudanese culture and that it can be controlled.
"It is easy to control corruption because it is not part of our cultures. Our people not are corrupt. Corruption in our communities does not exist. Our people are fond of pride. They eat what belongs to them. If you give someone you do not know to help you keep a cow you will get this cow with all her calves when you comeback after spending sometimes. Some people went to the north and others to Ethiopia and when they returned they got their cows. This is why I believe our people are not corrupt. It is not in their blood", said commissioner Malek.
The letter by activists and rights groups - the first of its kind - wants the government to establish and empower independent institutions such as anti-corruption bodies so that investigative agencies are free of political interference.
The letter also calls on leaders to take steps to restore the self-confidence and self-belief of South Sudanese in themselves, the state, business and public institutions. Political analysts say the signatories to the letter have unimpeachable credentials and the concern they are voicing should be a wake-up call for the government to clean up the system.