Sudan: Wikileaks - Top Sudanese Businessman 'Fed Up' With Bashir's Government

Washington — A top Sudanese businessman told U.S. embassy officials in Khartoum that he is fed up with the way the government is running the country, Wikileaks cables show.

The leaked diplomatic note speaks of a meeting that took place between the U.S. Charge d'affaires Alberto Fernandez and Sudan's leading businessman Osama Daoud Abdel-Latif on January 23, 2008.

Abdel-Latif is the chairman of the Khartoum-based DAL group which is comprised of several companies including DAL Motors, DAL Engineering, DAL Food and DAL Agriculture.

The Sudanese prominent businessman started off by saying said that 2008 has not been good to his businesses which went down by 10% since 2006. He said that this is particularly disappointing as earlier in this decade his businesses had achieved 30-40% annual growth.

The Chairman of DAL groups blamed this poor performance on the ineffective leadership in the Ministry of Finance as well as the Sudanese Government. At the time it was Al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan who was in charge of the finance ministry.

It was a month after this meeting that a cabinet reshuffle took place and Awad al-Jaz took over from al-Hassan. Al-Jaz has just left the oil ministry which he led since 1994.

"We have a very poor Minister of Finance. He is a joke and I am openly critical of him in his presence" Abdel-Latif said.

He described al-Hassan as a"yes-man whose only job is to take care of the army and the security."

The Sudanese businessman also noted that although the government's budget has grown from 2 billion to 11 billion in 2007, there is little to show for this money because so much is used for politics and the military/security apparatus.

He also blamed the deteriorating business environment on too many rules and regulations, oil dependence, and a lack of government planning, consultation, and review before making economic decisions.

As an example, Abdel-Latif cited the new two-day, Friday-Saturday weekend beginning in January 2008. He stated that the business community was not consulted on the issue, that the government changed the regulations a number of times, and that the final rules are still not clear.

As another example, Abdel-Latif said that Sudan had an opportunity to expand its agricultural exports to Saudi Arabia, and that many Saudi businessmen have indicated a desire to work with DAL's Foods group.

The venture has not yet started due to the complexity of Sudanese land laws and arbitrary taxes from the Ministry of Finance such as the business profit tax.

"We should first be able to make a profit on a venture before we start getting taxed on it" Abdel-Latif complained.

'TIME FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO GO'

Abdel-Latif went on to spell out his views on the government led by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir and dominated by the National Congress Party (NCP). He said the members of the regime are internally-competitive, overly homogenous, and manipulative.

He said he is very familiar with many of the regime's leading personalities because he grew up with them, went to the same schools, and continues to see them on a regular basis.

"All of these guys are from the same generation, the same schools, and the same families. They are too close in age and status and cannot agree on anything, even basic policies. Each one feels as though he is the leader and that the president and the army are just tools he can manipulate" he said.

Abdel-Latif also said he is puzzled by the large number of presidential advisors and assistants Bashir has.

"If President Bashir meets with each of his advisors and assistants once a week, he will not have time for anything else" he argued.

He also said that the personalities within the government often impede otherwise routine procedures. The U.S. charge d' affaires agreed saying that for example visa procedures become more difficult when the Minister of Foreign Affairs Deng Alor is abroad and the State Minister Ali Karti, takes over.

"Karti is a bastard," Abdel-Latif responded and added, "A lot of people feel it is time for this government to go. Without change there is no hope."

He expressed disappointment that the corruption of the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) had prevented it from providing a viable alternative to the Al-Bashir's NCP.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between North and South Sudan resulted in the formation of a national unity government between the NCP and SPLM. The former however, had the majority in the coalition.

The SPLM now reins over South Sudan which became an independent state last July.

'I AM FROM DUBAI'

Abdel-Latif mentioned the case of a British teacher, Gillian Gibbons, who was briefly jailed in Sudan for letting one of her students name a teddy bear Mohammad. She was sentenced to 15 days in jail followed by deportation for insulting Islam but was pardoned by Bashir after an appeal by two prominent British Muslims.

The Sudanese businessman said the case, which triggered extreme controversy domestically and abroad, was embarrassing to the Sudanese people and has hurt the recruitment of teachers at his international school revealing that only 3 out of 15 incoming teacher slots could be filled with expats.

He alleged that the events were exploited by politicians as part of an internal rivalry between a former Education Minister turned Presidential Advisor and the Minister of Education.

He was likely referring to former High Education minister Ibrahim Ahmed Omer who was at the time was Bashir's adviser and Hamed Mohamed Ibrahim who was the education minister.

Embarrassed by the reputation this incident has earned Sudan, Abdel-Latif stated that when he travels, he now tells people that "I am from Dubai, because everybody loves Dubai."

KHARTOUM LACKS ENTERTAINMENT

Abdel-Latif also complained that Khartoum's lack of recreational space and social opportunities is a real negative for the 500 expatriate employees of his companies. He conveyed this to Bashir about the lack who replied, "Think about me - I can't go anywhere and I'm stuck inside with my screaming kids all the time."

After hearing about the Latif family's weekend retreat, Bashir visited the farm and copied its design. Latif said that by the end of 2008, one of his companies will complete construction on Khartoum's first real golf course with a country club, tennis courts, and exercise facilities.

BASHIR ACKNOWLEDGED GoS ACTIONS IN DARFUR MAY LEAD TO CIVILIAN DEATHS

Abdel- Latif revealed that when the war broke out in Darfur in 2003, the Sudanese government sought financial support from business leaders and acknowledged that its actions would lead to civilian deaths.

He said after the rebels attacked North Darfur's state capital of El-Fasher in 2002 and blew up the planes, he along with a group of businessmen were called to president Bashir's residence.

The DAL chairman quoted Bashir as saying "We can stop this movement, but it may require some bombing and civilians will be killed".

He said that Bashir asked businessmen for money to help the victims and so they wrote checks.

The Sudanese leader has an outstanding arrest warrant against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide he allegedly masterminded in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

Bashir dismissed the charges saying it is a pot by the west to topple his 22-years old regime.

Abdel- Latif also slammed the appointment of suspected Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal as Advisor to the Minister of Federal Rule, sarcastically exclaiming "What a great decision!".

He added that government officials continue to look for support from the business community, but that "he doesn't not answer most of their requests anymore.

The U.S. embassy comment in the cable says that "having encountered the politically and business-savvy Latif on many previous occasions, we have never seen him this outspoken and overtly critical of the Sudanese regime and specific politicians. His opinions are likely indicative of rising frustration within the wider Sudanese business community dismayed at internal corruption"

"Latif's description of the Sudanese business community's direct financing of assistance to war victims in 2003 raises some questions, but is not surprising. In order to survive, Sudanese business leaders are constantly forced to cough up money for the regime, without having any control over what the money will actually be used for".

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