BY Dr. Leonard Madu, Nashville, TN, USA
SEPT. 02/2012, SSN; On May 3, 2012, President Salva Kiir Mayardit sent a letter to 75 former and current government officials asking them to return the sum of $4 billion that they are alleged to have stolen. The letter also states that partial payments are also welcome. He also promised amnesty and confidentiality to those who return the stolen funds. If the President’s allegations are true, its impact on the economic well being of South Sudan cannot be minimized.
A brief look at the current condition in South Sudan would help drive the point home. Last year’s budget (2011/2012) was $10.2 billion. This year’s budget (2012/2013) is $6.2 billion. A budget shortfall of of about $4 billion. 98% of South Sudan’s income comes from oil, but since January this year no oil has been sold as a result of the dispute with Sudan.
So no money is coming in and inflation is about 80%. Almost all development projects have been halted by the government, leaving international organizations to fill the void.
The healthcare and educational system are in disarray. Juba University has been closed for some time now and the few schools that have been built, have no equipments and trained teachers are not readily available. At 27%, South Sudan has the lowest literacy rate in the world, even worse than Afghanistan.
70% of children aged between 6-17 have never set foot in a classroom, and the completion rate is about 10%. Enrollment has doubled since 2005, but there are serious questions as to whether any of these anxious kids are learning at all. Currently, 6% of the budget is geared towards education.
In the healthcare sector, the situation is even grimmer. According to the United Nations Development (UNDP), and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the country has only 120 physicians and 100 registered nurses for a population of about 9 million. Neighboring Kenya has about 14 physicians per 100,000.
Although infant mortality rates have been lowered, maternal mortality rates remain the highest in the world. Currently it is about 2,000 deaths per 100,000 live births. Most of the physicians say they have to operate with cell phone flash lights because of electricity shortage. The good news is that the government says it has authorized the building of 100 more rural clinics and recruited about 512 foreign physicians. It has also started a crash program to train more nurses.
The UNDP says that about half of the population are food insecure, and the World Food Program (WFP) expects to feed about 2.7 million people this year. The conflicts in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile State are exacerbating the refugee problem and adding more pressure on food sources. This has caused most international organizations to switch from developmental programs to humanitarian assistance.
South Sudan has the potential to be the bread basket of the region, but currently the government imports 70% of its food and only 5% of the land is cultivated.
Though the government is doing its best to improve the lives of its people, looting of government funds would not help this process.
The $4 billion allegedly stolen could have taken care of all these problems easily. But there are a lot of questions surrounding this allegation made by President Salva Kiir.
Addressing a rally 3 weeks ago in Rumbek, Vice President Riek Macher poked holes into the allegations of the President. He stated that it was a smear campaign and a political witch hunt against the SPLM, which has been accused of massive corruption by international agencies.
Macher was quoted as saying at the rally “four billion is too much to be taken by 75 officials”. Vice President Macher is my good friend, but I hate to bust his bubble on this one.
Yes, 75 officials are capable of stealing more than $4 billion if they have unfettered access to the funds. Three examples will suffice.
1- At an inquest after the death of President Abacha in Nigeria, Wada Nas, then National Security Adviser stated that he went to the Central Bank and withdrew $1 billion with only a piece of paper from Abacha. No questions asked and no account rendered.
2- A former Governor, James Ibori, stole almost a billion dollars by himself. The Nigerian courts acquitted him, but the British courts got hold of him and sent him, his wife and girl friend to prison where they are languishing now.
3- In 1998/99, the prestigious Economist of London reported that the first half a billion dollars recovered from the late Abacha was stolen and shared by President Abubakar and few members of his Armed Forces Ruling Council. Interestingly, President Abubakar never denied the report (I still have a copy of that report). So, 75 Wada Nases and Iboris are capable of stealing more than $4 billion.
However, the question is -who is telling the truth?. The President or the Vice President? Some South Sudanese believe the President is telling the truth, but some believe there is a hidden ethnic agenda behind the accusations. If President Mayardit has evidence that these officials actually stole these funds, why can’t he turn their names over to the courts for prosecution?
On the other hand if he feels the judiciary cannot handle it because it is still a weak institution, then appoint a special prosecutor to carry out a thorough investigation and make the report public. He obviously has their addresses, so it would not be difficult to find them.
It is laughable and disturbing for a President to send letters to people asking them to return stolen money.
On July 4, The Civic Society leader, Deng Athuai was picked up from his Nile Beach hotel in Juba and severely beaten for trying to uncover the names of the 75 officials mentioned by President Mayardit.
And in Washington, Senator Richard Leahy (D VT), author of the “anti-kleptocracy” law has said that he does not believe the State Department is doing enough to find the names of those who are responsible for the missing funds.
Millions of South Sudanese and people like me who participated in the struggle for the liberation and emancipation of South Sudan, are waiting for answers and clarity.
DR. Leonard Madu is President of the African Caribbean Institute and the African African Chamber of Commerce, Nashville, Tennessee. He is also a Fox Television analyst on foreign affairs. firstname.lastname@example.org; 615-399-7955
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