opinionBy PaanLuel Wël
Washington DC — "An estimated $4 billion are unaccounted for or, simply put, stolen by current and former officials, as well as corrupt individuals with close ties to government officials.
Most of these funds have been taken out of the country and deposited in foreign accounts. Some have purchased properties; often paid in cash...We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got into power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people." By President Kiir
South Sudan is screwed up! The contents and wordings of the recently released Presidential letter that scandalously alleged that "an estimated $4 billion [are] stolen by current and former [government] officials, as well as [by] corrupt individuals with close ties" to the government of the Republic of South Sudan is, at best, a resounding confirmation of the obvious and, at worst, a flagrant betrayal of nation's expectation in post-independence era. The letter is a somber reminder of and unsettling testimony to the extent and magnitude to which the current Juba-based SPLM/A has betrayed and abandoned the exceptional aspirations, noble dreams and great vision of the former bush-based SPLM/A.
In that infamous letter of 03 May 2012, President Kiir, the author, squarely admits that "the people of South Sudan and the International Community are alarmed by the [unprecedented] level of corruption in South Sudan." President Kiir goes on to claim that corruption has no place in his government; acknowledges that many people are suffering in South Sudan, and "yet some government officials simply care [more] about themselves." Finally, he concedes that the credibility of his government "is on the line" should the present-day corruption spree goes on unchecked. Perusing the letter, South Sudanese may wonder: so what has the Good President, who reigns by decrees, done to stem the vicious cycle of rampant corruption within his government and under his watchful eyes? Well, according to the letter, the Good President has, over the past several months, decreed "a number of measures to put in place a mechanism to battle corruption and also to recover stolen government funds by current and former South Sudan officials." What is so interesting here though is that these "measures" were crafted just "past several months" and only after over $4 billion has been lost. With no more oil revenues to protect, of what use are the measures and mechanisms deployed after the storm over the past seven years?
In pursuant to that goal, the president has ostensibly appointed a new Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission; sent out eight letters to heads of states in Africa, the United States, Middle East, and Europe seeking assistance in the recovery of stolen funds by current and former South Sudanese officials; issued several Presidential Decrees to strengthen transparency and tackle corruption; sent out letters to over seventy five former and current senior government officials in an effort to recover stolen funds; sent out over 5,000 Declaration of Assets forms to former and current government officials; received a report from 1,600 respondents on the Declaration of Assets from the Anti-Corruption Commission of which an estimated $60 million was recovered from various sources from fraudulent transactions and misappropriation of funds by government institutions; opened a bank account in Kenya so that stolen funds can be returned to this account and, most importantly, "multiple investigations have been underway since January 2012 in an effort to recover stolen funds."
While the current effort by the government, and President Kiir's new-found courage, to tackle officialized corruption head-on is highly welcomed, with South Sudanese people strongly believing that it is better to be late than never; it is still far from clear if President Kiir is ready, willing and able to go after his wartime buddies and peacetime cronyists. On the one hand, the President appears to be assertive and threatening enough to have his way and will with his former and current corrupt senior government officials: "the government will continue its investigation of stolen funds and will hold accountable those officials and individuals who have stolen government funds and refused to return these funds." On the other hand, just when you are about to get convinced that the end is near and here, the president, within the same breath of air, timidly and beggingly announces, to the annoyance of all proud South Sudanese people, that: "I am writing to encourage you to return these stolen funds (full or partial) to this account. If funds are returned, the government of the Republic of South Sudan will grant amnesty and will keep your name confidential. I and only one other official will have access to this information."
The haunting question from the lips of all South Sudanese is why on earth a Mighty President would beg thieves, scammers, plunderers and suckers to return stolen public assets? For the record, President Kiir is not a weakling and nor is he bound by any bureaucratic checks and balances of a democratic system like the US president. He rules the country through Presidential Decrees; he securely passed a national constitution with no presidential term limits and he jails journalists, who have unwittingly crossed his path, with little regard to the rule of law. The SPLM, the rebel-turned ruling party he leads, has an absolute majority in parliament for the president to rubber-stamp any law he wishes. Furthermore, President Kiir has an iron-grip on the South Sudan army, the SPLA. President Kiir too is, just for the lack of any credible opposition party, generally backed by the majority of South Sudanese public: he got over 90% of the vote during the last election year and is likely to maintain more or less the same popularity in the next one. He is a leader unto himself, enjoying so much leeway and power that would make President Obama envious of him. That is what prompted one South Sudanese commentator to wonder out loud: "does the power have the power to collect the stolen funds?" Only President Kiir can also that solemn question.
South Sudan is screwed up because all indications point to the fact that President Kiir is powerful enough to deal with the corrupt government officials with a stroke of a pen or an utterance of a single word, and yet he has not done so, so far. Why is he bashfully begging the thieves who brazenly ransacked South Sudan national coffers to honorably return the spoils? Because the President could be one of them in that they are all involved in the plundering of government funds; because he is not involved but those guys are his dear close friends or political cronyists; because he is doing this for a show and therefore there is absolutely no need to get serious with your buddies; because he runs the risk of getting exposed himself should he clamp down hard on the bad boys/girls of his government who might have acted within his full knowledge if not downright endorsement; because the President has not set a good record by returning his own ill-gotten wealth to demonstrate his new-found disgust with the official corruption that has cost South Sudan over $4 billion dollars and counting or simply because he is actually powerless to take on the moneyed and tribal chieftains of his corrupt government. Most South Sudanese, however, would rather argue that it is because the President has no moral standing to face his equally morally bankrupt colleagues to arm-twist them into returning their booties.
South Sudan is screwed up because the President entrusted with the protection and promotion of South Sudanese national welfare and aspiration is either soundly sleeping on the job or an accomplice or just unable or unwilling to effect his constitutional mandate. If the President can't do his assigned job, one that he is getting paid for, who will? If the President is unwilling or unable or unready, who is? If the president is powerless before the plunderers, who is not? South Sudan is also screwed up because the proverbial liberators have shamelessly turned into broad daylight robbers and looters. Among other things, the SPLM/A fought against Fassad, Rashwah and Wasta, not because those vices were being practiced and propagated by Khartoum at the expense of the marginalized people but, more so, because the practices are immoral and economically debilitating in and of themselves. For the SPLM/A leaders and ranks to have distinguished themselves in the bush as sworn enemies to and destroyers of Fassad, Rashwah and Wasta only for them to turn around when in power to become the undisputed guardian of Fassad, Rashwah and Wasta is a betrayal of the highest order of the objectives, aspirations and vision of the SPLM/A.
Without a doubt, South Sudanese people do definitely feel the pain in the voice of the President when he utters the following moving words: "We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got into power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people." Still, as they say, action speaks louder than words. By his own admission, not that anyone needed it to arrive at that same conclusion, the embezzlement and misappropriation of government funds were committed by former and current senior government officials plus their little monsters. If that is the case, assuming that the President is clean and determined, who and what is preventing him from decreeing that all "former and current South Sudan government officials, as well as corrupt individuals with close ties to government officials" must, with immediate effect, resign from the government of the Republic of South Sudan and they must never be appointed to serve in the government because they have spectacularly succeeded to bring the country on its knees. The President does not need to send out letters to foreign governments because he knows exactly who has stolen what. Nor does he need to dole out Declaration of Assets forms because no thief in his/her right mind would divulge his ill-gotten wealth. Who is the President kidding here: the citizens or the daring thieves?
Debatably, the Anti-Corruption Czar is either part of the racketeers wreaking havoc on South Sudan or he is too powerless and clueless to do anything about the vice-in that case, his/her salary should be put to better use. Does the President really need a report from the Anti-Corruption Commission to act on the missing $4 billion? What is the definition of a national economic disaster befitting national emergence mood and action? Above all, instead of coaxing and hiding the names of the scammers from the public, the president should reveal from whom the $60 million was recovered from. Placing their egregious names in public view is called deterrence. The damning outrage they would receive from the public would act to deter future would-be public plunderers. Economic amnesty is a perfect recipe for and a categorical endorsement of an unabated continuation of the endemic corruption. There is no reason as to why anyone would care to stop partaking in corrupt dealings if there is no punishment or public shaming? There is no cost to it; it is a free profitable ride, all the way to the bank. With no persecution of wrongdoers, how could anyone, say investors, take South Sudan government seriously about investing or helping the nation? Isn't it clear now why no country is willing to fund the construction of the South Sudan oil pipeline to the Kenyan port of Lamu? A country that pleads with her looters to regain its rightful national assets has no credibility to be taken earnestly by anyone.
South Sudan is screwed up because the man who is tasked with keeping the government on its toe is currently co-habiting with the NCP in Khartoum. Dr. Lam Akol, South Sudan official opposition leader of SPLM-DC, has strangely found a paradise in a country that is mercilessly killing and forcefully deporting South Sudanese en masse. Why is Dr. Lam Akol living in Khartoum especially when the two countries are practically at war and particularly when he is needed most in Juba to discharge his vigilantic duties of keeping an eye on the government on behalf of South Sudanese people? The opposition party leader, who is the national leader in the waiting, should not be seen to be pandering to the enemies of South Sudan without losing his credibility in the eyes of the public that he is aspiring to lead. Dr. Lam should be in Juba holding the government accountable for the loss of $4 billion. By taking up on the issue of the day that matter, Dr. Lam could lastly gain a platform upon which he could hope to endear himself to the people of South Sudan in readiness to the forthcoming election. Even if he could be shedding crocodile tears, no one would fault his opportunistic patriotism because it would be anchored on the fact that the current government is corrupt and SPLM-DC may be a better alternative. Instead, his presence in Khartoum when he is needed most in Juba will only go to reinforce the prevailing perception that he is a prodigal son who keeps on rebounding back to his old traitorous ways without ever learning from his sinful past. Who has bewitched this academically bright son of South Sudan?
South Sudan is screwed up because nothing good will ever come out of the resumed Addis Ababa talks. As of now, given South Sudan's inflation rate of over 80%; given the drying up of South Sudan's national reserves that may not last for the next five months; given the realization that the highly publicized construction of South Sudan oil pipeline to the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu has turned out to be just nothing more than a pipe dream; given the intensification of deadly border conflicts and bombing of South Sudan undisputed territories by Khartoum amid deafening silent from the International Community that came out, tooth and nail, not long ago to unequivocally condemn South Sudan over the capturing of Panthou/Heglig, and particularly, given South Sudan's utter failure to secure any substantial amount of financial aids or loan from any country, including China and the US, it is just highly likely that the South Sudanese delegation headed by Pagan Amum to the Addis Ababa talk will soon buckle and give in to political, economic and military pressure and sign unfavorable agreement just to save the government from economic collapse. In that case, it is possible that they may agree to the $30-35 per barrel transport fees demanded by Khartoum. Alternatively, it could come down to the range of $15-25 per barrel transport fees, which is still, by all international precedents, a daytime robbery.
Most likely, given their habitual stubbornness and the present vulnerability of South Sudan, Khartoum may demand a specified contractual time, say 99 years or so, throughout which South Sudan would be legally and internationally bound to continually export her oil through Sudan, with or without any alternative pipeline build by South Sudan in the future, failure to which Khartoum would be eligible to financial compensations from Juba. Just imagine your two-year contract with Verizon Wireless, for South Sudanese Americans, for example. The most distressing part is that South Sudan has no friends out there to help it either because it is corrupt---and it is---or because it has no effective diplomatic corps to polish and promote the country internationally. The Panthou/Heglig crisis should have been a wake up call if Juba was serious to remedy its weakest points. The only country that came to the defense was Uganda, of all countries. It is hope that things might be different once ambassadors are posted, assuming that there is a budget to do just that. Given any amount of transport fees agreed at eventually in Addis Ababa, Khartoum will use the money to buy advanced weapons to fight South Sudan and the marginalized people of the Sudan in Darfur, Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile; purchase more bombs to bomb South Sudanese towns; will continue to siphon off and steal South Sudan's oil and could easily, and with no second thought, renege on the agreement knowing very well that South Sudan has nowhere else to resort to and can't afford to shut down oil production again.
South Sudan is screwed up because the SPLM/A as the ruling party, the government of South Sudan, President Kiir as the only surviving founder of the Movement, and Dr. Lam Akol as the official opposition leader, have all betrayed the nation's expectation that illuminated and invigorated South Sudan's independence. South Sudan's independence was welcomed with a great relief at the end of the war, of death, of suffering, of oppression and servitude; it was greeted with bubbling expectations of a brighter tomorrow, of freedom and liberty, of economic prosperity and self-reliance, and above all, of a better accountable and transparent government of, for and by the people of the Republic of South Sudan. Instead, the past has endured and is rapidly expanding; the opposite is true. Although it is optimistically true that "there is still time to take critical decisions of saving our country from the crisis we currently face and to help the millions who are in desperate need of assistance in health care and education" President Kiir must realize that the number of specific measures taken by the Government of the Republic of South Sudan "to tackle official corruption and institute mechanisms to help prevent corruption and strengthen transparency and accountability" are not adequate nor effective.
President Kiir should set the record straight by turning in some of the money he has gotten illegally-yes, no one would ever believe him if he fancies or insists that he is Mr. Clean and his officials are Mr./Mrs. Dirtiest. The dog only barks or acts the language of the master. President Kiir should consult President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; he has had experiences disciplining his wartime buddies and peacetime cronyists. Though he is still a dictator, at least he is an enlightened one. For President Kagame, losing over $4 billion within his government, if it were to happen, would be perceived as a threat to his hard-earned and guardedly kept presidency, unlike President Kiir who saw it as a letter-writing soap-opera.
Ultimately, President Kiir must make a decision: part ways with his corrupt officials and bring in new clean ones or deal with them decisively but still keep them for the sake of stability or do nothing and be prepared to sink with them when destiny come calling! It came this week for Pharaoh Mubarak of Egypt!! Like President Kiir, Hosni Mubarak was a war-decorated hero among his people and yet, that was not enough to save him from the inevitable call of destiny! Surely, those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it!! Will President Kiir learn from history or will he be condemned to repeat it? You bet!