Sudan: Trade Minister Madani Steps Down At His Prime

15 February 2021

Khartoum — Outgoing Minister of Trade and Industry Madani Abbas Madani had salvaged the Ministry from beneath the rubble of negligence, oblivion and impotence. That is the general mood among the watchers of this Ministry and the performance of Mr. Madani.

Mr. Madani was left out in the recent reshuffle, to give room for new ministers from the rebels of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front that recently made peace with the Government.

Before him the Ministry was just an old signboard telling the passersby that here "was" the country's Ministry of Trade and Cooperatives.

An economic journalist close to the Ministry for decades, writer Hassan Warraq, remembers that when the Islamic clique of Hassan Alturabi and General Omar Albashir took power in a military coup in June 1989, they distributed all the different departments of the then very effective and respectable Ministry among different other government (and in some cases private) bodies.

Hassan Warraq

All the prerogatives of the Ministry were taken away: Imports became the responsibility of the State's Customs (the police). And exports were diverted to the central bank (The Bank of Sudan). And the remaining sections became characterless and ineffective and the bulk of their staffers were left for despair and idleness. And if there was some work to be done, it was confined to a small group of lucky employees, all of them adherents of the defunct ruling party, the National Congress.

The Ministry's watchers very well remember the remorseful comment of former Commerce Minister James Cook, who joined the government in implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government and the then Southern Sudanese rebels. He said: "Every morning when I come to office, I find no work to do. I am just left with a heap of newspapers to read from until the day's work is over."

Thus the situation, the Ministry had no knowledge of what goes on in the export section nor in the import section.

The companies' record and the business names became the responsibility of the Attorney General!

The measurements and specifications department was taken away to build a new government body under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic!

The same had happened to the Ministry's lucrative companies: The Gezira Trading Company, Copetrade, the Oil Seeds Company and the rest, which were recklessly privatized or simply deserted. The same had happened to the strategic reserve of commodities, the Exhibitions Corporation and the Halal Council that sat on billions of pounds.

All of these were gone. Even the commercial attaches in Sudanese embassies became the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance.

Mr. Warraq did not forget the reckless statement of the then Finance Minister Abdelrahim Hamdi who said after the economic portfolio was taken from him that he had nothing to feel sorry for other than that he did not liquidate the Ministry of Commerce!

"Hamdi is the first accused in what happened to the Commerce Ministry," charged writer Warraq.

Then What Did Madani Do:

Little by little he embarked on reforming the imports and exports sector.

He revised the exporters lists to find heaps of corruption and evasions. Hundreds of so-called exporters deliberately ran away with the export proceeds.

Many of them tended to sell export permits to foreigners who did not deposit the proceeds to the central bank.

Here Madani launched a special police force (headed by a general) within the Ministry's premises to chase, arrest and bring those lawbreakers to book.

As a result lot of foreign exchange was returned to the national coffer. Some of those law breakers are now hiding abroad and are chased by the Interpol.

The exporters' register was reformed: Any exporter found to have failed to deposit his export proceeds was ticked out from the list.

Imports were reformed a good deal. Much of the importation was stopped unless by a permit from the Ministry and the authorization of the Bank of Sudan.

All of these reforms and many others were made to an orgy of outcries from lawless exporters and importers, heaping insults on the person of Mr. Madani in many cases.

The Industry:

The industry was doomed because of the policies that fought national manufacturing to the benefit of privileged importers and foreign exchange smugglers.

Domestic manufacturing was neglected to the degree that raw materials badly needed for the local industry tended to be exported by foreigners.

Thus the situation, it is no wonder that 80% of the local factories were forced to shut down out of bankruptcy and to escape intentional impediments represented in heavy taxes, irregular electric supply and external competition.

Thus was the situation in which Minister Madani Abbas Madani found himself. Further and above, he found himself besieged with battalions of greedy merchants, importers and exporters, who always wanted him to do what they pleased.

And when he insisted to do what was right, they staged a horrific media campaign against him, in some cases staging processions to the State House demanding his dismissal.

And these had received a listening ear from some members of the military. For one, the Deputy Chairman of the Sovereignty Council, Leader of the armed militia known as the Rapid Support Forces, Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo (Hemaditi), would often tactlessly harass, rebuke and bully Mr. Madani during public gatherings. This man, businessman-turned senior government official, was of course, unhappy to see what Madani was doing and the reform he was after, just by way of protecting his dubious (even lawless) activity, and the activity of his confederates in the market.

Despite all these constraints, Mr. Madani continued with his effort, doing quite a lot in about 14 months in office.

He was supported in this by a strong record as a true revolutionary who shone very brightly during the popular uprising that culminated in the ouster of General Bashir and his men.

At one stage Mr. Madani was physically harmed: During the criminal breaking of the sit-in strike at the Army H.Q, he was about to be killed and was seen on TV footages carried by fellow protesters out of the inferno.

Leaning on these qualifications, Mr. Madani battled in all directions to do what he could in order to put things right.

He strived to keep a regular supply of wheat and wheat flour for the bakeries, so insufficient this supply might have been. But what he could provide of these commodities was reasonable in a country on the brink of bankruptcy and starvation.

In this respect he made an uphill fight against generations of what is known as "flour agents", whom he said divert the commodity to other purposes or to the black market.

He contracted new agents and revived the government's ' Food Security Agency', that took the responsibility of flour distribution.

Many an observer had cited that the pressure on wheat bread was unusual in the previous year.

They say this pressure was because bread prices were heavily subsidized and many of the citizens had preferred to buy this bread instead of buying the other alternatives, namely sorghum and millet bread which have become so expensive in the last two years.

The scarcity in these staple foods was because of heavy, misguided,00 exportation of sorghum in 2018, during the last year of the reckless regime of Omar Albashir.

The problem was complicated even further in 2019, which was a lean year in terms of crop production, due to many factors, including inadequate rainfall.

Heavy sorghum exports in 2018 and low production in 2019 had created a sharp rise in the commodity's cost on the local market.

To make matters even worse, some NGOs (including some UN agencies) sought their relief supply from the commodity in an already scarce market, instead of importing their needs from abroad.

When they saw the heavy NGO buying of the commodity, local traders entered the speculations, rising the prices to levels unaffordable to the ordinary consumers, observers say.

And amid all of this Madani was enmeshed in an unfair (sometimes vulgar) media campaign, clearly the work of the counterrevolution and the once-privileged bakers and bakers union. But he stayed firm and unswerving.

In search for remedying and straightening the trade and the industry, he had to lead a tremendous legal work:

Qusai Hamaror

Economist, Dr. Qusai Hamaror accounts for Madani's legal achievements in the Ministry of Trade and Industry:

When Madani Abbas Madani assumed the commerce and industry office in September 2019, there was no industrial law.

The Ministry of Commerce and the Industry was (and still) is very weak.

Most of its prerogatives were distributed to other government ministries and corporations.

Thus the situation, Minister Madani embarked on a wide structural reform that continued for a long time, though not completed yet.

He initiated laws for the industry, trade, cooperatives, exports and imports:

He revived and improved the consumer protection law. In this regard he mobilized stakeholders and specialists, guardedly observing the different interests of the society.

And despite the reservations, he managed to formulate three laws which were endorsed by the Council of Ministers, and await to be ratified by a joint meeting of the Sovereignty Council and the Council of Ministers (the interim legislature). This joint meeting was not held so far, for reasons yet to be known!

Madani's concern with the cooperative sector was not that superficial. He strived to found it on sustainable basis. This had required more time, because the defunct regime had completely destroyed the once very effective cooperative movement.

Madani was not knew to the cooperative sector. He had been active in the civil society and had his intellectual contributions to many developmental and consumer issues. So, he persuaded a number of experts on cooperatives and worked with them on ways for reviving the cooperative sector. That effort had materialized a wide enlightenment movement and dynamic discussion on cooperatives in bid to draft a cooperative law. That was done, benefiting from those discussions and the expertise of advanced countries in this activity.

Madani was also concerned with strategic planning for the industry's future. He inspired a lot of research and studies that aimed to lay down the basis for an industrial development at the medium and long terms. That has included the comprehensive industrial survey in which he worked diligently with many units of his Ministry, including the Industrial Research and Consultations Center.

Madani was very concerned with the provision of consumer goods, cooperating in this bid with the Sudanese Consumer Goods Company and other companies working in automatic bakeries and the provision of other consumers.

Generally speaking, Madani had laid a solid legal and administrative groundwork for Dr. Ali Jido Adam, who is replacing him as Commerce Minister and Mr. Ibrahim Alsheikh, who has taken the industry portfolio, concludes researcher Hamaroar.

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