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 $73m since 2018, with almost $39m stolen during a period of less 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, jeopardising the prospects for sustainable peace,” it said in a report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
South Sudan hit back on Monday, with the minister of cabinet affairs, Martin Elia Lomuro, dismissing 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 told the 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.”
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, a single payment made unlawfully in May 2018 by the Ministry of Finance to Sudanese businessman Ashram Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal, 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.
‘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 impoverished country, which ranks last on Transparency International’s corruption index along with Somalia, 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 few 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.