Report on South Sudan Leaders is ‘Foam’ with Little substance—Failed to link corruption to the War

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By Peter Biar Ajak…

Let’s all acknowledge that our country has a massive problem with corruption. Not only is corruption fueling violence, but it is a disease that is entrenching South Sudan in failure. As such, any efforts aimed at curbing it are in order and should be appreciated. As such, Sentry’s attempt should be welcome, although it should be taken with a barrel of salt. It should not appear as if I am denying the existence of corruption. In fact, corruption is a serious problem in our country. The collapse of Nile Commercial Bank, the dura saga, the Crisis Management Committee are evidence of the scale of the problem.

But with this said, it doesn’t mean that we should just take any shoddy work put out there at face value. Doing so would even undermine the genuine efforts aimed at fighting corruption. While there are serious issues with the methodology of the Sentry’s report, I have no interest to dwell on that part. My point is that the report failed to do what it set out to do. It was supposed to link corruption to the ongoing violence, with focus on periods 2013-2016.

Now, let me expand on shortcomings on the reports and why it is hard to believe that it was done over a period of two years:

  1. There is emphasis on Luri farm. While the president, indeed, has a farm there (and by the way, a bunch of South Sudanese have farms all over the country), the actual complex is owned by the state. It does not belong to Kiir or his family. This should have been clear to the authors of the report.
  2. Owning shares in companies in South Sudan means nothing. Anyone can register a company and allocates himself a number of shares, but that doesn’t mean equity. Most of the sections on the president’s family, Gen. Malek Reuben’s family, and even Gen. Paul Malong’s talks about shares owned in companies, but nothing about equity. How many people on this forum owns companies in Juba that are simply briefcase companies without any equity?
  3. There is too much reliance on the Facebook. The best example is the case of Lual Malong Yor, a.k.a the “Young Tycoon.” Anyone who knows this guy would attest that he is a show-off who owns nothing! He lives in someone else’ apartment in Joe’burg. The Sentry simply lifted pictures of himself from social media and put them on their report. His activities covers THREE pages of the report. So much for the evidence being “thorough, detailed and irrefutable!”
  4. Instead of focusing on the periods they said they would focus on, they went way back when it was convenient for them! Case in point is the alleged companies owned by Kiir’s sons, which were registered in 2007/8. Likewise with Teny Riek Machar’s violent takeover of the KK Security firm. I am very much aware of this case because I was asked by the World Bank to follow it up when I was still there. This was in 2009-2010. The Gemtel (attempted) takeover was also before the current conflict. While they provide interesting reading materials, they don’t tell us about the linkages between the ongoing violence and corruption.
  5. The Norinco arms deal started being negotiated in 2011 and was concluded then when John Koang Nyuon was still the Minister of Defense. This was part of a wider effort to transform the SPLA. It had nothing to do with the current war. Gen. Malek Reuben was not even the D/COG for Logistics at the time this deal was signed. So, what does it tell us about the linkages between the ongoing violence and corruption?
  6. There is so much focus on houses people own in Lavington, Kampala, Australia, etc. Owning a home does not necessarily means corruption, or if it means corruption, it could be from different periods and of various scales (i.e. aid racketeering, war economy before 2005, etc). It may simply means some are wealthier than others. Or are we saying that wealth accumulation is alien to South Sudan? This is where a historical context is very important. You would all recall that during the 2004 Rumbek meeting, Kiir lashed out that some individuals already owned big homes abroad and had fat bank accounts. This was before 2005 and the beginning of the oil economy in South Sudan. It is a common knowledge that during the war, there was rampant racketeering of humanitarian aid; SPLM/A economic commission had business activities involving gold, timber, and other commodities. Then there was the whole issue of cattle raiding, championed by William Nyuon and Kwanyin in early periods, but taken to a different level by Riek Machar with the looting of the entire Dinka Bor cattle wealth. But there are communities whose ancestral wealth was never affected. These are not new to anyone on this forum. There are countless opportunities in which those in corridors of power made a lot of money before the CPA. Hilde Johnson’s book talk about this emerging problem, as she raised it with Dr. Garang (RIP) before he met his tragic death. Moreover, immediately after the CPA, everyone came to Juba and donors & NGOs descended, spending an average of $1.2 billion a year on top of GOSS $2 billion annual budget. Many folks built houses as soon as folks arrived in Juba. These houses were rented by NGOs, embassies, and other government officials at inflated prices. Take for example a house that UN-SGR used to rent, which costed about $25,000 per month. Some of these rents were paid 6-12 months at once. On top of this, there was the Nile Commercial Bank, which provided loans to folks willing to start businesses. These loans ranged from $10,000 to, in some cases, up to $500,000. Now, is it impossible to imagine that some of the folks mentioned in the report could have accumulated wealth during these ventures, which they possibly invested in other income generating activities? After all, it is a known fact that since 2005, the real estate investment in South Sudan has boomed to over $3 billion dollars. Not all of this investment belongs to foreigners. The point here is not to say that those mentioned in the report may not be corrupt, but the threshold of evidence required should be more than simply saying so and so owns an expensive home, so he must be corrupt. It may simply means that wealth inequality is real issue in South Sudan just like in any other country, and perhaps corruption may or may not have played a role. We don’t know and the report doesn’t tell us anything on this!
  7. The deposit of money in individual accounts for OFFICIAL government business is not something new. It is among numerous irregularities mentioned often by the Auditor General. The fact that money was deposited in an individual account does not mean that the money belong to the said individual. This practice, or course, is not professional, but it has been the case in South Sudan for many years and continues to be case. It is particularly rampant in the Foreign Service, where most of the time, money was/and continues to be sent to individual accounts to pay for Government’s services abroad.
  8. The reports conflates ownership of homes with residency. There’s talk of Riek Machar’s alleged home in Nairobi. What’s interesting about the report is that it ignores Riek’s known business ventures and focuses on this alleged home. It turns out that this very house was only being rented. In fact, Riek’s relatives who lived there have been evicted not too long ago from this very home. It was never bought by him or his relatives.
  9. There is so much focus on the salaries of officials. Anyone who knows anything about how our government works would attest that salaries are only a portion of government employees’ earning. The real money is in the allowances. The per diem in regards to foreign travel are at another level. So, saying so and so gets this salary per a year does not tell us any useful information about the actual earnings of the person in question. One would need to look at financial flows of the individuals in question, including allowances. This would give a general picture of total annual earnings, which would be more useful. The second is to also account for the income generating assets. The report assumes that the folks mentioned in the report did not have any income generating assets, which is absolutely naive since these guys have been in the apex of power in South Sudan for nearly 30 years. How can one make such an assumption?
  10. The individuals mentioned in the report all come from Dinka and Nuer. These are not the only two tribes in the government, army, or private sector in South Sudan. If we are to be honest, then the rest of 62 tribes have played their part in this huge scam as well.

It should be clear that the report has serious issues. It generated fanfare on assumptions and absolutely questionable work. This does not mean that corruption should be ignored. One ought to accept the challenge of investigating this vice and try to approach it methodically. If we are talking about the periods since the war began, the major scam occurred through the Crisis Management Committee (CMC), in which money was misappropriated or outrightly stolen. One would have expected a report trying to connect the recent war to corruption to start there. It did not.

The reliance of the report on sources like Chimp Reports, which it alleges to be a “respected Ugandan investigative news outlet” is just embarrassing. This source along with Facebook accounts for a significant amount of data in the report. So, not only are there a lot of assumptions the reports makes, but even where the report allegedly has evidence, the core of it comes from Facebook and satellite images (which are absolutely useless in this kind of investigation).

As for the ridiculous per diem the government dishes out to its employees, I totally agree that this practice should be stopped. But until it is stopped, it is de jure and de facto legal. God knows the amount of hard currency wasted on this item! Those who benefited from these per diems should not be accused of corruption since they were getting what was entitled to them according to the system. It is the system that should be blamed here, but not the individuals in question.

I understand that many are conflating the dislike for Kiir’s regime with this report. As such, many are willing to embrace it for political issues alone. The two issues should be separate. If we approach the fight against corruption that way, we would surely lose this fight. John Prendengast and George Clooney along with their colleagues at Enough and Sentry simply need to get their acts together.

Otherwise, I doubt if this report would be of any real value. I don’t see the need for those mentioned in it to waste their valuable time over it. It’s fanfare over a bunch of nothing!

Peter Biar Ajak is a 2015 Millennium Fellow at the Atlantic Council and a 2016 Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellow at the African Leadership Institute.
This article was first Published by Real South Sudan