South Sudan leader orders state officials to return plundered billions

In an extraordinary letter, Kiir tackles more than 75 current and former senior government personnel and demands that they return the stolen funds.

Corruption has plagued South Sudan’s government since the 2005 peace deal that ended more than 20 years of civil war with Sudan, paving the way for independence last July.

“We fought for freedom, justice and equality,” Kiir’s letter reads. “Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people.”

The letter is dated May 3 and was obtained by the Associated Press. The country’s information minister, Barnaba Benjamin, confirmed its authenticity on Monday.

Missing billions
South Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries. With disarming candour, Kiir writes: “People in South Sudan are suffering and yet some government officials simply care about themselves.

“Most of these funds have been taken out of the country and deposited in foreign accounts. Some have purchased properties, often paid in cash.”

The president also says “corrupt individuals with close ties to government officials” were involved in stealing the missing billions.

He adds that South Sudan’s citizens and the international community were “alarmed” by the levels of corruption and that “the credibility of our government is on the line”. He promises anonymity and an amnesty for officials who return stolen funds.

In some countries such a letter might cause huge embarrassment but Benjamin claimed it was having the desired effect.

“Since the letters were written about $60-million of the money that was inappropriately used in various ministries has already been recovered,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

Recovering cash
“It is working and what is important is that the government must really succeed to recover some of this money, so we are heading in the right direction.”

Benjamin said neighbouring Kenya is actively engaged in South Sudan’s fight against corruption. South Sudan has opened a bank account in Kenya where anyone who has taken government funds can return them.

“If anybody again is found taking government funds in an inappropriate manner, there will be laws in place that will definitely punish such individuals,” he said.

The promise and euphoria around South Sudan’s decision to break away from Sudan has dissipated for many. In January, the new country’s auditor general reported that nearly $1.5-billion in government funds were unaccounted for from the 2005/06 fiscal year.

There has also been the prospect of renewed war with Sudan, which it accuses of stealing oil. Earlier this year South Sudan shut down its oil production, which accounts for 98% of its revenue, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars for the government.

Kiir has launched an anti-corruption campaign in recent months, including a decree ordering all public officials to declare their assets to the South Sudan anti-corruption commission. His office claims that around 5 000 former and current public officials have now done so. – © Guardian News and Media 2012

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