Is Corruption Unbeatable In South Sudan?
By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok,
Nov 18, 2015(Nyamilepedia) —- Probably many of us would agree that a single word sometimes gives an impression about a person, an organisation or a government. For example when you hear the name Al Capone you think straight of a gangster who led organised crime in Chicago during the prohibition era despite the fact that it could be the name of a catholic priest. Likewise the name Al qaeda brings up the notion of terrorism without thinking it literally means ” the base ” in Arabic language. In the same vein, there are few words that instantaneously spring into your mind whenever the government of South Sudan is mentioned. Among these words is corruption. It has grown into a monster that is posing a real threat to the future of the country. It is widespread to the extent that it’s gradually being accepted as a fact of life. Someone on this forum even tried to convince us that some degree of corruption is permissable ! Sadly this situation is gradually drifting to where corruption becomes an entitlement to anyone at a position of authority.
Paulino Wanawilla, the justice minister, Said a couple of days ago, I quote: ” I know in South Sudan corruption is not in one place, but it’s very sad when everybody is stealing.” He went further to say, ” I know there is corruption. I have evidences of people in this ministry [ of justice ] who are legal counsellors and take bribes.” The question is; if the minister has such evidences, why not indict and prosecute those corrupt officials ? What is holding him back from performing his duties given the fact that he is the top member of the executive responsible for upholding the rule of law. It is really unbecoming for someone in his position to say those words while he has the authority to get rid of those corrupt officials. Instead of telling half the truth, the names of the corrupt officials should have been made public with accountability process put in place. What the minister has done is similar to what president Kiir did 3 years ago when he wrote letters to 75 top officials who embezzled 4 billion US Dollars from government coffers. President Kiir continues to refuse disclosing the names of the culprits.
A wise man ( Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher ) once said I quote, ” Where there is no publicity [ i.e full disclosure ] there is no justice.” Transparency is key to tackling the whole issue whether past or present because once the names are known; the culprits would have nowhere to hide. Wanawilla’s statements are rather expressions of helplessness and resignation than a signal for imminent actions to curb the corruption. The minister can be commended for admitting the existence of corruption under his watch. Some of his colleagues in the cabinet would be more defensive and deny what is known to everyone including the gatekeeper in the ministry. However he has a tough choice to make between putting up with the situation with the risk of getting soiled on the way, or quitting his job if he cannot effect changes in his ministry.
South Sudan ranked number 171 out of 175 countries on the Corruption Perception Index ( CPI ) of the 2014 Transparency International ( TI ) report. Below South Sudan are Afghanistan, Sudan, North Korea and Somalia. It means our country is among the most corrupt countries in the world. It is a pity that such a young country with the abundant resources it has, finds itself at the bottom of the world. TI defines corruption as “The abuse of entrusted power for private gain which eventually hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in position of authority “. Unfortunately complacency is prevalent in our society. It is so often that people say – this is government money, government vehicle or government property – the implication is that it does not matter if these items get mishandled because they belong to no particular individual.
The fact of the matter is that corruption hurts everyone including the corrupt officials though in different ways. Hypothetically, the 4 billion dollars could have enabled the government to build for example highways connecting our major cities ( Juba, Malakal and Wau ) and numerous small towns and villages along the routes. This would have led to stimulation of economic growth, facilitation of service delivery to the people and beefing up of security around the country. It was never to be in South Sudan under the current regime. But the hardships emanating from lack of infrastructure are not confined to the rural people only, the corrupt officials would suffer in one way or the other. One aspect of this is that many of them would not dare visiting their own villages. While they live happily in Juba, their villages are left in ruin and abandoned. The question is how would they campaign in the coming elections ?! Would it be by using surrogates while they stay away in Juba ?!
As we are about to open a new chapter in our political process, namely the establishment of the transitional government of national unity (TGoNU ), a new approach should be the order of the day. We cannot allow inaction against corruption to continue in the republic of South Sudan. It should be regarded as a matter of national security. In countries like China, government officials who commit grand corruption are handed down the death penalty. In my opinion a long jail sentence coupled with confiscation of assets would be the appropriate measure.
There are things the TGoNU could do that would have an impact in fighting corruption. A lean government is one of the things that could help limiting corruption both directly and indirectly. In South Sudan when a minister is appointed, the whole of his extended family and sometimes his clan move in with him. I wonder whether it’s a phenomenon only limited to South sudan. The result is, many people loitering under trees in Juba doing nothing yet being maintained indirectly by the government. Some are kept indefinitely in hotels in Juba at taxpayers expense. It is a culture of dependence and laziness that some people shamelessly seem to enjoy. When you add to these the cost of education and health care abroad for all members of the minister’s family, the figure would be quite staggering. There is no way that the minister’s salary and allowances could cover the costs hence he resorts to corruption and embezzlement of public funds to meet his personal expenses.
It is important that the TGoNU avoids the policy of accommodation. We have seen numerous appointments that lack merits and some with no specific job descriptions. Even those who were sacked from their ministerial or other top government positions do not leave the government for good. They get accommodated in other posts, mostly as advisors to the president or ambassadors without portfolios. The events have shown that some of these ambassadors were used as ” attack dogs ” against the opposition. Others were allegedly used to commit murder and to do the dirty work for the government.
The policy of accommodation results in no new blood or ideas entering the government. At the end of the day we end up ” recycling ” the old corrupt officials who have got nothing new to offer for the betterment of the country.
Adoption of real federalism and empowerment of governors, state legislatures and institutions is the way forward. This would remove any hurdles in the way of democratic governance and would uphold the rule of law. Politicians would think twice before indulging in corruption because they would be closely scrutinised by their constituencies and would lose elections if they go astray. It is unusual for a politician to embezzle funds that are allocated for say building a school in his area.
It amounts to political suicide, however the same politician, who is inherently corrupt, would not hesitate to embezzle funds allocated for the same purpose but in another area. There are people who are keen to develop their areas. They are not interested in getting employed in the government but want the government to get out of the way. It is the insecurity caused by the SPLA and its allies that leads to hindrance of economic growth. With the federal system sons and daughters of the area would be the ones entrusted with maintenance of security and delivery of services to their local population. It is the recipe for stability and prosperity.
The majority of our citizens do not know how much our government is spending on our military. The following figures are extracted from the global military sizes and expenditures report for 2014:
Country Total military size Military expenditure ( % GDP )
South Sudan 140,000 8.3
Sudan 211,100 2.7
Uganda 46,800 1.2
Kenya 29,120 1.3
Ethiopia 138,000 0.7
Democratic Republic of Congo 145,400 1.4
Central African Republic 3,150 0.5
South Africa 89,535 1.1
USA 2,226,635 3.5
UK 234,310 2.1
China 6,927,000 2.1
Russia 2,821,255 4.5
I must admit, the report was a big surprise to me. Here is South Sudan, the youngest nation on Earth, which has just risen from a long and protracted war, spending as percentage of GDP on the military more than the combined expenditure of USA, UK and China. It is also more than the combined expenditure of the USA and Russia. We are spending more than the superpowers. What is going on ?! Is it really worthwhile doing so ? Is there any justification for this unbelievable expenditure or that huge army ? Look at the size of the Ugandan army ( UPDF ), it is 1/3 the size of SPLA. Yet the government had to seek the help of the UPDF to save it from collapse ! A big number does not always equate with a stronger army, it is the training and the firepower that matters most. Contemporary history has shown it clearly in the Arab-Israeli wars.
The SPLA is a leading source of corruption in the country. Arms deals are done without transparency and a lot of funds go into the pockets of the generals. Salaries and allowances are being paid to people who do not exist or indeed dead. All these practices contribute to depletion of our national wealth. The SPLA or the would be South Sudan Army needs to be down-sized to 1/3 of its current size and more attention should be directed to training. Professionalism should be introduced with eradication of the culture of looting, rape and brutality against civilians. The brutal attacks against civilians in unity state, upper Nile state and the recent helicopter gunship offensive against unarmed civilians in Wonduruba, Mundri and Maridi areas, have changed civilian’s perception of the SPLA. Right now if civilians in those areas are asked what is the number one threat to their lives, the answer would not be diseases, famine or environmental catastrophes, it will be without hesitation the SPLA.
Finally, we should all recognise that corruption has reached the worst possible stage and is edging towards irreversibility. There is nothing that cannot be fixed in this world provided it’s humanly possible. However the first step to fixing all our problems is to have a responsible government in Juba.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org