A confession of the devil – a custodian of economic doom: An Open Letter to President Salva Kiir Mayardiit
By Gen Lemi Logwonga Lomurö, PhD (Cand)
Dear Mr. President,
March 18th, 2018(Nyamilepedia) —– I read with a lot of interest your statement dated 14th March 2018, at the swearing in ceremony of Mr Salvatore Garang Mabiordit as minister of finance that, “We have lost the value of our currency, and there is nothing we can do soon to regain our currency’s value unless we produce”. It is indeed encouraging that at long last you have woken up to the realisation, that the ship under your command has lost its navigation; a fact that some of us had foreknowledge of, but could not approach to tell you, because in your domain, the culture of critical advice is alien and beckons recrimination and punishment. That assertion is indeed supported by the latest figures from the World Bank and African Development Bank which suggest that the South Sudan Gross Domestic Product contracted by 5.3% in 2015 and 13.1% in 2016, and it was projected to decline by 6.1% in 2017, with inflation being consistently in triple digits over the last two years. But for you to have arrived at this conclusion, means that you must also accept the other side of the triangle, that the country is now officially a FAILED STATE, and with it you’re myopic political LEADERSHIP as a consequence.
Mr. President, you alleged on …dated that one reason for the failure and collapse of the state is the attempt by Riek Machar to take over power by force. While this assertion may hold some water, it is not entirely true that, “the forceful taking of power has brought us now to this stage where we have no money in our bank”. You must accept and recognise the fact that wide spread corruption packaged as embezzlement of public funds, tribalism and political appointments combined with weak or in some cases none existent institutions together explains the predicament in which the country finds itself. It does not require a rocket scientist to aggregate the scale of corruption of your government from 2005 to the present day.
The following facts will be of some help: The Auditor General’s report of 2012 to parliament stated that USD 1.5 billion for the fiscal year 2005/6 were un–accounted for by the government of South Sudan. Parliament was appalled by this report and, in an attempt to address the issue; the house summoned the governor of the Central Bank, Comrade Elijah Malok Aleng and the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Mr Arthur Akuien Chol. Governor Malok Aleng told parliament that the missing money was diverted to the personal bank account of Mr Arthur Akuien Chol, who refused to appear in Parliament to explain the missing funds.
Earlier in 2007, Mr Arthur Akuien Chol was accused of having inflated the purchase of vehicles for the government from a certain El Cardinal Company Ltd. and made away with US$ 60 million. He was then arrested but forcefully freed by armed youth from his Warrap state daring anyone to follow them. When security personal and police units wanted to re-arrest him in order to restore law and order you, Mr President, intervened and ordered that Mr Arthur Akuien Chol should not be touched until further directives from you. These directives never came to the police or the security to this day. This means that Uncle Akuiendit, as he is always known, made away with not only a cool US$ 60 million, but also the US$ 1.5 billion! This in my opinion was the main trigger to what would eventually become a sustained culture of rampant corruption in the new republic of South Sudan. No one knows to date, how much of this went to the top.
In 2008, there was the advent of the so called “Dura Saga”, when a government policy to avert famine became a vehicle for corruption to loot the public of millions of dollars, by hundreds of fictitious private briefcase companies which connived with your State governors, Mr President, to claim that they had delivered the food as per the State request, when in actual fact no speck of grain was delivered. The governors got their kickback and signed the receiving reports and submitted them to the Ministry of Finance which duly went ahead and paid the crooks. The irony is that those who actually delivered were never paid and are still running after their money to this day. No Governor was reprimanded or criminals locked in for any basic investigation.
In September 2011, Mr. President you authorised payment for 488 million pounds ($244 million) to your company the ABMC, which was fronted by your close relation, Benjamin Bol Mel, who was later sanctioned by the US government. The payment was supposedly for the Bilpam road construction. Length of the road and exact cost to be found out.
Between 2006 and 2012, your government spent $1.7 billion supposedly on road construction, but only 75 kilometres of road was ever built or paved in whole country. This is despite your empty calls for zero tolerant to corruption in the country.
On the 3rd of May 2012, you wrote letters accusing government officials of plundering at least $4bn from state coffers. At the time you claimed that, “people in South Sudan are suffering and yet some government officials simply care about themselves”. These corruption cases and many more others happened before you launched your war against Dr. Riak Machar on 15th Dec 2013.
Under your leadership political corruption reached another record height. Appointment to senior positions within the civil service is only within the confines of political expediency, and positions are used as tools for bribery. The culture of meritocracy so crucial in economic management and governance is alien. Equally promotion in the organised forces follows the same pattern. As a result the economic landscape is dominated by the military elite which is strongly fragmented and marked by competing clientele’s networks along tribal and ethnic lines. The diverging interests are kept in balance by yourself who exposes the government to the demands of the many competing groups and thus open to corruption and clienteles. As an example, in 2011, you were given a list of 13 corrupt ministers who despite demand by Parliament for you release the names for scrutiny, you refused and went ahead with their appointments, because you know well that with their appointment the clienteles relationship is established and sealed. The military remains the only institution that refused to be audited by the office of the Auditor General. The military leadership are aware of the tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers,” i.e., soldiers who exist only on the blotted payroll documents and this is one of the primary methods the military and security officials divert wealth to their private accounts.
Mr. President, all governments in the world generate their income by taxing their people, and if there is any windfall, like income from the oil, it is considered as an addition to the tax base revenue. Institutions charged with the tax collection are the Revenue Authority. In your government this very important institution has never been instituted. No wonder at one time there were close to twenty tax collection desks in Nimule, with each collecting for themselves or whoever sent them to Nimule. In your recent trip to visit the grave of your late wife, you saw the trucks and wondered where the money was going. Mr. President, you rely heavily on the windfall from the oil, thinking like river Nile it will always be there. So when the prices of the oil begins to tumbles, and added to it, the insecurity created by your incessant desire war, then you have a classic case of being caught with your pants down. But even if the Revenue Authority was there, given the level of tribalism, and position being dished out as political favours, then it will be no more than a milk cow. Further, government try and ensure that their expenditures remain within their income in addition to the borrowing and grants. But when the world knows that in less than five years, South Sudan has graduated to be the most corrupt country at par with Afghanistan, then surely NO country or financial institution will be willing to give you a dime. It does not matter if South Sudan joins the Arab League in order to borrow from the likes of Saudi Arabia, which I suspect to the driving reason to join. The reality is that corruption in South Sudan has reached an epic proportion.
Mr. President, your response to the spread of corruption in the country was inaction. Even when you came up with the slogan of “zero tolerance”, to corruption, it was more to showcase to the media your supposed commitment but the contrary was happening. For instance on April 12, 2013, you fired Elias Wako Nyamellel, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, “for acknowledging that South Sudan is corrupted and ‘rotten to the core. The Sentry report confirmed what millions of people suspected, that one reason you could not stamp out corruption was because you were the head of the corruption syndicate. Like an octopus you latched your tentacles on all the resources in the country, and with multiple of suckers locked on those resources and sucking them dry. Your network and circle of connections touches every resource in the country. From airline to banking to real estate development, to minerals to road construction etc, and the list goes on and on. Your network includes who and who in the organised forces, and extends to your immediate family to the clan and friends.
Mr. President, economies fail due to many factors and top amongst which is poor leadership and management. The litany of your failures leaves a lot to be desired and I can only give a few examples to prove my argument. When Arthur Akuein was removed from prison by a mob of armed youth from his village, what did you do, as part of your zero tolerance, to ensure that he is returned back to prison and tried for the crimes he was accused of? Any other leader would have stamped his foot on the ground and arrest those youth for contempt of the rule of law, and that would have sent signals to others that you were serious about zero-tolerance to corruption. Your failure to publish the list of the 13 corrupt Ministers in 2011, and subsequently appointing them, simply entrenches the culture of inaction. Your letter of appeal to 75 former ministers to return the more than US$4 billion stolen was laughable at best; because that is not how it is done in the rest of the world. These people were supposed to be arrested, investigated and if found guilty punished. But you were worried, after all they were from your tribe, your closest circles and you continued to recycle them through your revolving door of government. Your delegation to the HLRF resisted any reform, and insisted on the expansion of the government ministries, of the legislature and perhaps of the judiciary, even when as you now realise, the government is bankrupt. What a contradiction and what a shame.
Mr. President South Sudan is not unique nor is it an exception that it can not come out of the current quagmire. While it is true that countries in post-conflict state have weak economies and institutions, and are therefore vulnerable to further conflicts, what is required is strong leadership, one that will rise tall over and above the tribal forest and be able to have 360 view of the horizon. Uganda, our neighbour was equally gripped by war in the 1980s, and President Museveni, was able to work his way, and navigated Uganda into the peaceful country it is today. Similarly Rwanda was bartered by civil war in 1994, but under the steady stewardship of Paul Kagame, today Rwanda is an exemplar of peace and economic success in Africa. Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa are other example of countries that have successfully navigated the post-conflict roadmap and transformed their economies and governance to become contributors rather than receivers of UN peacekeepers. The common factor in all these cases, are leaders who were determined to bring peace; carry out all the necessary reforms beginning with the security sector. But there are also examples of countries whose economies collapsed and the leaders failed miserable to revive it and had to give way for fresh blood to give it a go. And one such a country is Zimbabwe.
Mr. President, there is a lot that we could have done to rebuild our economy if you rise up to the challenge and act like a leader. South Sudan is a country full of potentials. The land is fertile and the country has over 220 days of rain in a year that is capable of producing two crops in a year. Apart from the rain, the Nile and its tributaries water the land. It has the potential to produce 400 tonnages of fish annually, let alone the animal wealth which unfortunately is still used to measure social status than benefit the economy. Forests of various timbers abound. In 1972, the then government of Southern Region, had no money and was dependent on Khartoum and the international community. But within a few years, it was able to register successful agricultural output. Some agricultural schemes were identified and were to be implemented, but for lack of money. Unfortunately, the petrodollars has given you an easy way out and forgotten the real economic base of our country. The oil money should have been used to kick-start agriculture, which is the largest employer in the country and remain to be for years and decades to come.
In conclusion, now you have come to the realisation that the economy has collapsed, the country has failed; your leadership has equally failed. I don’t have to remind you, that you can pack up and go back to Warrap State, if you have bothered to build a tukl, other waste your stolen loot buying and building in Uganda, Kenya, the Malaysia, and Israel etc. It is a matter of time, and another leader will come. He will carry out the required reforms and rebuild the economy and South Sudan. But as you pack up, please be reminded that when the times comes, the new government will not write and beg you to return the money, but arrest and charge you for all the crimes committed against our people. If found guilty you will be go to prison. That is where you deserve to be.
Gen Lemi Logwonga Lomurö, PhD (Cand)
Centre for Citizen Interface in South Sudan (CISS).