South Sudan opens account for stolen funds recovery

Blamuel Njururi, Nairobi June 9 – South-Sudanese Government has opened a bank account in Kenya into which money looted from public coffers can be returned.

This follows President Salva Kiir Mayardit disclosure that about $4 billion had so far disappeared through official corruption – ten months since the country became independent.

The South Sudanese president appealed to those involved in the plunder of public resources to voluntarily surrender the money and deposit it into “South Sudan Stolen Funds Recovery Account” at Equity Bank. The account number is 0810299067373. The money can be banked in any Equity Bank branch.

The South Sudan’s anti-corruption committee has recovered an estimated $60 million from fraudulent transactions and misappropriation of funds by government officials, the president’s office said in a June 1 press release.

In a statement signed by the President, the government asked the culprits to return the stolen funds either in full or partially promising them amnesty and confidentiality. President Kiir said the government had over the past six months taken several specific measures to tackle official corruption.

They include the appointment of a new chairman of the anti-corruption agency and sending out letters to more than 75 former and current senior officials to recover stolen funds. Early this year, the government sought the assistance of eight heads of state in Africa, the United States, Middle East and Europe in the recovery of the money.

Multiple investigations are also underway to recover the looted cash. President Kiir noted that South Sudanese and the international community were alarmed by the level of corruption in the country that got independence only last year.

“Many people in South Sudan are suffering and yet some government officials simply care about themselves, thus putting the credibility of our government on the line,” he said.

He added most of the stolen funds had been deposited in foreign countries while some used the money to buy property outside the country. Many South Sudanese officials have bought residential properties in prime residential areas in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

The government will hold accountable those officials and individuals who have stolen public funds and fail to heed the amnesty, warned the Southern Sudan president in a letter to 75 current and former officials dated May 3. He offered amnesty for officials and individuals with government ties who returned the money.

The request came as the country, which seceded from Sudan less than a year ago, is scrambling for cash to make up for the loss of almost all state revenues with the shutdown of its oil output in January. Critics have accused the government of President Kiir doing little to clamp down on widespread corruption that has hampered efforts to build the war-torn state from scratch and jumpstart development.

Reliable figures are difficult to access in South Sudan, but the figure stands around one third of the estimated total oil receipts allotted to the South between the 2005 peace deal in Nairobi, that ended over three decades of widespread civil war and independence last year.

Decades of conflict and economic neglect have left the nation of about 8.6 million people with some of the worst health and education statistics on the planet. Few paved roads exist outside the capital, Juba. Secession from Sudan last July sparked widespread optimism among South Sudanese that their country would at last head toward prosperity, but lingering disputes with Khartoum and corruption have hobbled the economy since then.

South Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin disclosed that over half of the estimated $4 billion was from the country’s so-called “durra” scandal, in which a large government purchase of sorghum was allegedly never distributed. “It is a colossal sum,” he said.

South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), largely consists of former rebels who fought against Khartoum. Majority have scanty experience with civilian institutions or economic management. Financial management oversight, where it exists at all, is weak.

“We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people,” the president’s letter read.

The landlocked country took control of about 350,000 barrels a day of oil output – around 75 percent of Sudan’s total – at partition, but failed to agree how much it should pay Khartoum to use pipelines running through Sudan. That dispute prompted the new nation to shut off its production in January, instantly erasing about 98 percent of state revenues and the country’s dominant source of dollars.

Although the government has adopted an austerity budget to help curtail spending, a leaked document from the World Bank estimates foreign reserves will run out in July. South Sudanese officials insist the assessment overstates the danger.

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