While overseeing the swearing in ceremony of Mr Salvatore Garang Mabiordit as the new minister of finance on the 14th March 2018, President Salva Kiir took valour to admit the collapse of South Sudan’s currency and, with it the leadership that administered the collapse. The President declared in a personalised statement 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”. Wow, What a courage! Has the president roused up from his lax slumber to make this discovery, or what must have triggered him to make this announcement this time around after years of economic malady?
Although this admission is indeed encouraging Mr President, it has taken too long for you to have woken up to the realisation that the ship under your command has lost its navigation lens, a fact that some of us had foreknowledge which was brought forward to your attention, but because in your domain, the culture of critical advice is alien and, often beckons recrimination instead of appreciation. That is why you chose to ignore most advices from those considered outside your trusted clique of cronies.
Your assertion about the value of our currency is undeniably 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. However, for you to have arrived at this conclusion Mr President, means a lot to the people of South Sudan whose ordinary lives have been reduced to vagabonds by your primitive economic policies. By accepting collapse of the national currency, you are effectively admitting that the economy has crushed, which means that the country by definition is now officially a FAILED STATE. Moreover, this admission also confirms an impeccable political demise of your political LEADERSHIP, Mr President.
On several occasions, you have taken pride to allege that the only 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 Riek’s attempt to take over power by forceful means is what brought the country to this state of economic collapse where the country loses its purchasing power. The rebellion is only one of many factors that contributed to the collapse of the economy. To be fair, you must accept and recognise the fact that wide spread corruption packaged as embezzlement of public funds, tribalism and dubious political appointments, in combination with weak or none existent institutions explain, to a large extent, 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 shed light on some of the recorded incidents of Grand Corruption Practices (GCP) committed under your supervision: First, 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.
Secondly, 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 first main trigger to grand corruption ever committed, leading to what would eventually become a sustained culture of wide spread corruption or call it rampant fraud practices in the new republic of South Sudan. After this incident, nearly all your ministers went on looting spree of public funds under their administration. What uncle Akuiendit did to South Sudan, with your blessings Mr President, marked the beginning of a new culture of impunity with free for all chase, which has become the order of the day in the country.
The third incident was the 2008 debacle, known as the “Dura Saga”, in which a government policy to avert famine became a vehicle for corruption to loot the public of millions of dollars. This was to be carried out 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 kickbacks and signed the receipts for submission to the Ministry of Finance which were duly paid to the crooks. The irony is that those who actually delivered the sorghum (dura) were never paid and are still running after their money to this day. When the whole matter became clear that it was fraudulent, the government did nothing, up to this day no single criminal has been reprimanded even for any basic investigation.
In addition, 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 the whole country. This is despite your repeated empty slogans for zero tolerance to corruption in the country.
Furthermore, 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 relative, Mr Benjamin Bol Mel, who was later sanctioned by the US government for corruption. The payment was supposedly for the construction of a four lane road to Bilpam SPLA army headquarters. It turned out that only one lane was built at a cost of a quarter of the approved budget and, the rest of the money remain unaccounted for to date.
One final stroke on the economy was the documented publication of seventy five cases of fraud that you made on the 3rd of May 2012, when you wrote formal letters accusing government officials of plundering at least USD $4 billion from state coffers. At the time you claimed that, "people in South Sudan are suffering and yet some government officials simply care about themselves” by unscrupulously scooping such an amount of money from the treasury for their own use. Unfortunately, to this day Mr President, you cannot tell the people of South Sudan, who among the suspected ministers are, and how many of them have been convicted or charged in a court of law? What other measures have you taken to avert corruption in the country since then? Are these reasons not sufficient enough to cause collapse of the economy? Needless to state at this point that all the cases of corruption enumerated above occurred prior to outbreak of the current conflict on 15th Dec 2013, and your subsequent launch of war against Riak Machar thereafter.
So, how can you then blame the entire economic crisis in the country on the conflict when a serious damage had already been done before the war occurred?
With all these irrefutable evidences in place, Mr President, it is only fair to conclude that under your leadership, South Sudan will remain in history as having witnessed one of the worst periods of political corruption ever recorded in my generation. This is because the practice is not only limited to money or material corruption, rather, endemic fraud under your watch is openly known to be pervasive.
Take the appointment of public servants for instance, to senior positions in the civil service. It is clear that key government positions have become a preserve of some specific clans, primarily within Bahr Al Gazal, to the extent that even the greater Dinka community is victimized, simply because not all Dinkas agree with your style of management, and so most do not fall within the realm of your political segregation, especially when these positions are used as tools for bribery. This practice suggests that a culture of meritocracy so crucial in economic management and governance is alien to your style of leadership. Furthermore, promotion in both public service and the organised forces follows the same pattern of preference to certain individuals and groups.
As a consequence the economic landscape is dominated by your tribal elite who controls every aspect of commerce and government, characterised by competing clientele’s networks. This competition for free money has laid bare the country’s economy to all hostile groups and networks of patrons who are holding the government hostage with impunity. A case in point is the 2011 list of 13 most corrupt ministers who, despite demand by Parliament for you to release their names for scrutiny, were refused and, instead you went ahead with their appointments to senior positions, because you knew well that with their selection the clientele’s relationship is established, maintained and sealed.
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 the case of your government this very important institution has never been constituted, at least in your 13 years of misrule.
Because of this lack of properly organized revenue institutions, I believed that in your recent trip to Pageri and Nimule, you might have seen the fleet of trucks loaded with taxable commercial merchandises, all destined for markets in South Sudan but, wondered where the money that is collected there over the years must have gone. No wonder why at one point in time there were close to twenty tax collection desks in Nimule, representing different entities, with each collecting the money for themselves or whoever sent them to do the job there. This is called governmental mismanagement.
Your leadership made no initiative, Mr. President, to exploit the potential for the massive resource in the country. You chose to rely almost entirely on the windfall from the oil, thinking it is like the River Nile that flows non-stop, and that it will always be there to scoop. And when the price of oil begins to tumble, coupled with insecurity created by your incessant desire for war, you should then know that you have been caught with your pants down. It is not just currency that has collapsed rather, your entire regime is gone with the economy.
Even if the Revenue Authority were to be established, given the level of corruption and tribalism where positions are only dished out on the basis of blood relationships and political favours, the milking cow would still run out dry of milk. This means that with this kind of mediocre system of economic management in place, no country or any credible financial institution will be willing to give you a dime. Given all this facts, it does not matter anymore, if South Sudan joins the Arab League of nations if only to access loan borrowings from the likes of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which I suspect is the driving reason for attempts to join them, the economic situation in South Sudan will not change until there is an overhaul of the entire regime. This is basically because it is a reality that corruption in South Sudan has reached epic proportions which will require a new, untainted, shrewd political leadership to get it sorted out.
It is imperative to remind you at this point Mr. President, that your response to the spread of corruption in the country has been characterized by naivety, ignorance and inaction. You chose to plead with criminals instead of holding them accountable. When you repeatedly preached countless slogans of “zero tolerance” to corruption, all were more to showcase to the media your supposed commitment but what happened was tragically to the contrary. At the same time those who raise alarm against the phenomenon of corruption have found themselves victimised. For instance on April 12, 2013, you fired Mr Elias Wako Nyamlel, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, for acknowledging the fact that “South Sudan is corrupted and rotten to the core”. The Sentry report confirmed what millions of people suspected, that one reason why you could not stamp out corruption was because you being the head of government could not see any difference between yourself and the gang of ministers who formed the corruption syndicate. Like an octopus you latched out your network tentacles to all directions, targeting all economic areas in the country. Such networks which extend from airline to banking to real estate development, to mineral exploitation, to road construction etc., manned by immediate members of your family and close associates are the cause for collapse of the economy, and with it, the country.
While it is true that countries emerging out of protracted conflicts have weak institutions and fragile economies that make them vulnerable to further recurrent conflicts, what is essentially required in such a situation is a robust political leadership; one that rises tall over and above the endemic tribal forest that exists today in South Sudan. Such a leadership must be able to envision a 360 degree view of the economic, social and political horizon. To achieve this approach lessons are bound from which to learn.
Take for example, Uganda, which is our immediate neighbour that was equally gripped by civil wars in the 1980s, but President Museveni, being a competent leader with a clear vision for his people, was able to steer Uganda into the peaceful country it is today. Similarly Rwanda was bartered by civil war in 1994, but under the steady stewardship of President Paul Kagame, today Rwanda is an icon of peace and economic prosperity in Africa. Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa are other examples of countries that have successfully navigated through the post-conflict trap and transformed their economies to stability. Moreover, good governance helped turned these countries to become contributors to world economies rather than receivers of international help such as humanitarian aid upon which South Sudan survives or UN peacekeepers now charged with protection of civilian from the threat of their own government.
This of course, is not to deny existence of post-conflict examples of countries whose economies collapsed after war is ended. Indeed, there are examples of those cases where leaders failed miserably to transform and could not recover fully in post-conflict environments. Some of these countries include Zimbabwe, after the war of independence in 1980s and, Congo Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) after the end of civil wars of the 1960s. However, both countries were able to pull up and avoided total collapse after their leaders were forcefully rooted out and replaced by moderate front-runners. In Congo Kinshasa, it took a rebellion headed by Lawrence Desire Kabila to defeat President Mobuto Sseko. In the case of Zimbabwe, it had had to last several decades before the army intervened to push President Robert Gabriel Mugabe out of power in 2018. Perhaps South Sudanese need to draw lessons from the experience of those other countries and assemble similar courage to demand removal of the current dictatorial leaders by all means if only to achieve permanent peace and stability.
In summary, I wish to emphasise that it is futile to simply admit the collapse of the economy with its currency. Admitting failure is not a solution to the problem. What is crucially needed to achieve post-conflict economic stability in all these cases, is a visionary, prudent and a robust political leadership that is capable of adapting to dynamic challenges which often characterise post-conflict environments. It is this kind of leadership that has the ability to define how and when to envisage peace; by carrying out all the necessary reforms beginning primarily, with the security sector. As it stands today in South Sudan, that class of political leadership is not only lacking, it is desired. In conclusion, now that you have come to self-realisation that the economy has collapsed, confirming failure of the country; it all translates to leadership failure which in essence marks the end of your tenure as president.
Gen. Lemi Logwonga Lomuro PhD (cand)
Centre for Citizen Interface in South Sudan (CISS).
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are solely mine.
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