We’ll not prosecute corrupt individuals – Ateny
The Presidential Press Secretary, Ateny Wek Ateny, has said the government will not be able to prosecute corrupt individuals suspected of draining public funds despite the chilling warning issued by President Salva Kiir at the swearing-in of two ministers on Saturday.
Ateny was categorical that no evidence had been adduced against the unnamed individuals to warrant a successful legal prosecution.
Speaking to The City Review yesterday, Ateny said President Kiir’s Saturday speech did not explicitly signal the politicians implicated in graft but was just a warning to them against the vice.
“The President was not speaking to the specific evidence of corruption. The President was saying some staff were now taking a percentage, ten per cent in the central bank and he was trying to discourage that, ” Ateny said.
He said it was impossible for law-enforcing agencies, the anti-corruption commission or even civil society to act based on the presidential speech because it lacked evidence to pin a suspect in a case.
He clarified that the government would not take any further action following the statement by President Kiir on the state of affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning after the minister was sacked.
Too risky is the attempt to prosecute the individuals that Mr Ateny also told Eye Radio that the government feared a rebellion if such individuals were to be subjected to the law.
“There are people who squandered money and when you ask, they will rebel and South Sudan is dealing with the revitalised peace agreement on how to bring a permanent peace and the constitution,” he told Eye Radio, adding: “The responsibility of taking people to court is the responsibility of the people of South Sudan is not entirely for the president’’.
This comes after the President outlined various directives for the newly sworn-in minister of finance, Agak Achuil Lual.
Kiir warned Mr Lual not to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, who he said had dipped their hands in public funds and wired the money to foreign bank accounts.
Even though he did not specifically mention anyone, Kiir lamented rampant thievery that he said had enabled some politicians to build mansions and skyscrapers in foreign countries with government revenue, leaving the country with an economic deficit.
He further cautioned the two new ministers of finance and the interior not to be deceived that someone lobbied for them, saying it was his sole decision to appoint the two.
The President also directed Lual to ensure that civil servants are paid on time and that there should be transparency in the Ministry.
He asked him to deal with corrupt practices that have let down the government, saying that it could be the best service to citizens and a better way of helping him fight corruption.
Funds leakage across borders
According to the Conference Room Paper, which was presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in September 2021, the UN Commission on Human Rights reported that public coffers and resources leaked into the pockets of government officials.
The commission’s two-year investigation highlighted that over $73 million had been diverted to individual bank accounts since 2018, with transactions worth approximately $ 39 million in less than two months.
That was said to be just a fraction of the amount of $ 4 billion President Kiir said some elites had diverted since 2012.
The commission mentioned such embezzlement as a major setback leading to poor economic, social, and cultural rights of citizens.
It also mentioned that such practices were jeopardizing the sustainable peace brought about by competition to grab resources by corrupt politicians for personal gain.
The commission recommended that the government of South Sudan should protect the rights of citizens.
The leaking channels of money flow included the informal system of oil revenue collection, non-transparent processes for contract payments, procurements, and revenue, which were said to be operated in a bid to divert non-oil revenues.
The commission cited a payment made in May 2018 alone by the Ministry of Finance to Sudanese businessman Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal worth 21.6 per cent of South Sudan’s total budget for the 2018/2019 fiscal year.
In response to the report, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Martin Elia Lomuro, disregarded the report, calling it “an international campaign…against the (South Sudan) government,”, as he was quoted by Aljazeera.
“These are the organisations 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 disclosed to AFP news agency.
“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.”
However, the human rights activists asked citizens to question the country’s parliamentarians on the issue.
“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 told the AFP news agency.
“I would urge the people of South Sudan to see how their finances are being spent.”
President Kiir last week relieved Athian Ding Athian, former minister of finance, alongside Minister for Interior Paul Mayom Akech.
He cited the inability to report to him as well as the failure to reveal to him the amount of money that was in the government coffers.
Athian was replaced by the incumbent Finance Minister, Agak Achuil Lual, and Paul Mayom Akech was replaced by Mahmoud Solomon Agok.