‘It’s a lie! No money looted’

‘It’s a lie! No money looted’
South Sudan Cabinet Affairs Minister, Martin Elia Lomuro (photo credit: file)

South Sudan’s government has dismissed a UN report accusing the country’s governing elite of looting tens of millions of dollars from public coffers, saying it is the victim of an “international campaign”.

Last week, the UN’s Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said a “staggering” amount of money and other wealth had been diverted from public coffers and resources – more than $73 million vanished without trace since 2018, with $39 million stolen during a period of fewer than two months.

It warned that the plunder risks derailing an already fragile peace process in the world’s newest nation, which has struggled to emerge from five years of civil war following independence in 2011.

“This plundering also continues to fuel political competition amongst elites, and is a key driver of the ongoing conflict, violations, and serious crimes, jeopardizing the prospects for sustainable peace,” it said in a report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

On Monday, South Sudan hit back. The Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Martin Elia Lomuro, dismissed the report as part of “an international campaign … against [South Sudan’s] government”.

“These are the organizations that are sponsored not to see political stability in South Sudan and they will move from one thing to the other, from human rights to corruption, from corruption to something else,” Lomuro said.

“This country is sovereign … if the government has mismanaged anything, it’s only the people of South Sudan who can hold this government accountable, not external forces.” He added as quoted by AFP.

The UN report said that the figure of $73m was only a fraction of the overall amount looted, adding that, in 2012, President Salva Kiir admitted that South Sudan’s governing elites had diverted more than $4bn.

It said its investigations revealed the involvement of politicians, government officials, international corporations, military personnel, and multinational banks in these “crimes”.

The commission accused South Sudan’s elites of deliberately adopting a “highly informal” system of oil revenue collection, without independent oversight and transparency, thus enabling the misappropriation of public funds.

“Similarly flawed, non-transparent processes for contract payments, procurements, and revenue are operated illicitly to divert non-oil revenues,” it said in a press release on Thursday.

In one case, the report claimed that a single payment made unlawfully in May 2018 by the Ministry of Finance to Sudanese businessman represented “a staggering 21.6 percent of South Sudan’s total budget for the ‘Use of Goods and Services’ and ‘Capital Expenditure’ for the entire 2018/2019 fiscal year,” it said.

The report noted that President Salva Kiir was himself alarmed by the gaps in the financial management system which he said were causing lots of wastage of public funds.

‘‘President Salva Kiir admitted that non-oil revenues were not being fully remitted into the single block account of the National Revenue Authority. In fact, and as noted by President Kiir, when collected and managed appropriately, non-oil revenue should be able to meet the Government’s expenditures,’’ the report noted.

It gave an instance where the President made a remark in the 2019 presidential speech where the head of state quoted a 2010 report by the National Audit Chamber faulting various government institutions for shying away from keeping records hence abetting corruption.

“Most of the ministries keep no records. Essential basic documentation would require cash books, expenditure analysis books, treasury books, and period bank reconciliations. There were no internal auditors across the entire government system. In many instances, there was no segregation of the duties of authorization, custody, recording, and execution. One official was allowed to perform several of these functions singlehandedly. Worse still, the frequency and magnitude of financial mismanagement suggest collusion,’’ the report quoted President Kiir saying

‘Not far from truth’

Rights campaigners backed the report and called on citizens to ask tough questions of the country’s lawmakers.

“The oil money is flowing … but it is not reflected [in] the lives of the people in the country, so the report is not far from the truth,” Bol Deng Bol, executive director of rights group Intrepid South Sudan, told AFP.

“I would urge the people of South Sudan to see how their finances are being spent.”

The youngest nation is almost entirely dependent on earnings from oil.

Following a 2018 ceasefire and a power-sharing deal between Kiir and his rival-turned-deputy Riek Machar, the peace process has shown some signs of progress.

The report said it had identified several individuals allegedly linked to rights violations and economic crimes whose names would be passed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for possible investigation or prosecution.

However, it was not all doom and gloom as the report also touched on positive steps made by the Ministry of Finance, National Revenue Authority, and the African Development Bank (AfDB) in improving revenue since independence in 2011.

‘‘Although the exact figures of non-oil revenue are not known, the information provided within the budgets appears to show that collection has increased since the establishment of the NRA. The Government of South Sudan, the NRA, and the AfDB are to be commended for developing the NRA and obtaining the increase,’’ it states. 

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