South Sudan corruption rampant, despite sacked ministers

South Sudan corruption rampant, despite sacked ministers

Over the past few weeks, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan has made several controversial decisions that will mark the history of the two-year-old nation. In an already troubled political scene, the president sacked two governors, two ministers and then dismissed his vice president, the secretary-general of his party and the entire cabinet.

Amid this power struggle, the suspension of the two ministers following allegations of corruption comes as the first of its kind. It caused controversy and raised concerns that this was a politically motivated decision. But it also highlighted the challenges the infant nation faces, and the need to resist rampant corruption in the country’s complex political environment.

Suspended by the president, Minister of Finance Kosti Manibe and Minister of Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor stand accused of transferring $8 million of public funds from the national treasury into a private account “without the knowledge of the relevant state institutions.” The move came as the ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) suffered cracks within the top leadership. President Kiir’s decision to sack two out of the ten elected state governors – the Lakes State governor, followed a few months later by Unity State governor earlier this month – without explanation incited criticism even from fellow party leaders.

The then SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum openly criticized President Kiir’s decision describing it as “wrong and politically motivated” decision, warning that the move may generate “mistrust and tribal tensions,” already problematic factors contributing to the country’s instability. A few days later, Pagan Amum himself and Vice President Riek Machar, who previously declared their intention to run the expected 2015 presidential, along with the entire cabinet were dismissed from their positions.

However, using corruption allegations to eliminate political rivals will not deal with the real weight of the problem and its impact on the state building process. Several scandals shocked the country, both during the interim phase that followed the signature of the CPA between Sudan and South Sudan (2005-2011) and after the referendum that led to the country’s independence in January 2011. Yet, rarely was anyone held accountable, which led donors to lose their confidence in the set-up government and the ruling elite.

Government procurement and construction projects are the areas most affected by corruption. One of the more shocking scandals was the grain Dura Saga project, a 2008 government food security program targeting the provision of grain in each state. Estimates suggest billions of dollars were paid to about 290 companies, some of which were one day old, but few reserves and stores were built and almost no food supply was ever delivered. An investigation launched in 2009 reached no conclusions. Reopened in May 2013 with the help of the World Bank, the investigation found that the companies were paid without signing any form of contract with the government, a result that suggests the immaturity and incompetence of state agencies.

Other government bodies and projects have suffered from corruption, including the Ministry of Finance in 2007, the under-construction John Garang Military Academy and even the presidential office, from which a disputed large amount of money was stolen earlier this year. As a result of subsequent scandals, President Kiir wrote last year to 75 unnamed former and current senior government officials asking them to return $4 billion in missing public funds.

Meanwhile, bribery seems vital to do daily tasks, to avoid complications by the authorities’ employees or to speed up slow procedures. According to the latest Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer, 47% of those who deal with the police, 43% of those who deal with the judiciary and 41% of the citizens who deal with the land services pay bribes. Another report by the World Bank and the IFC in 2011 ranked Juba as the second most expensive city to start up a business due to long procedures and unofficial payments. A businessperson in South Sudan’s capital city needs to carry out 11 procedures in at least 15 days and spend about 250% of income per capita to launch his business.

In a relatively early move, President Kiir has declared during the interim period a “zero-tolerance” policy toward corruption. The South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission (SSACC) was established in 2009 long before the country gained independence. However, in practice the commission’s authority has more of an investigative nature. Up until the sacking of the two ministers, no official has ever been prosecuted by the commission. Several anti-corruption laws have been approved, but most of them are inactive or weakened by the lack of mandatory audit procedures and sanctions. For example, the South Sudan Penal Code Act of 2008 states that government officials are required to submit financial declaration forms but introduces no penalty if any of them fail to comply.

But the challenges facing the fight against corruption stretch far beyond unimplemented laws or un-empowered institutions. A number of cultural factors constitute major obstacles and sometimes fuel corruption practices. Tribalism and nepotism are key factors. Not only do they lead to allocation of resources and jobs on basis of ethnic affiliation, but they also lead to an exclusion of qualified workers resulting in a capacity crisis within the different institutions.

Rich oil reserves make the Republic of South Sudan much luckier than many other countries born after a civil war, giving it a comparative advantage in terms of financial resources to some of its neighbours. However, the ruling elite, most of whom are ex-military, need to adapt to the new context of peace and abide by the democracy’s values of transparency and accountability. A simultaneous effort on issues of business-friendliness, corruption and capacity building are crucial to establish a strong and effective administrative entity and to avoid tarnishing the new nation’s image.

About Author

Ahmad Taleb

Ahmed is a Business Intelligence Analyst for a multinational financial advisory services company. He received his graduate education in Business & International Commerce in Egypt and France. He obtained a master’s degree in Comparative Politics from the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po Aix) in France.