Home | News    Tuesday 7 February 2012

Ex South Sudan finance minister denies corruption allegations

By Julius N. Uma

February 6, 2012 (JUBA) - A former minister for Finance and Economic Planning in the South Sudanese government has denied allegations linking him to embezzlement of public funds in the wake of the auditor general’s report for 2005 and 2006 presented to the national assembly.

In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Monday, Arthur Akuien Chol said he is ready to be investigated over any claims of corruption and accused some individuals within the current government for having plotted his downfall.

“In 2006, I was accused of misusing and stealing public funds. This was propagated by some few individuals within the government leading to a caucus sitting of the SPLM as an intervention,” he said, adding that, “The latter [was] in response to this matter, which was resolved with clear findings of transparency and accountability within my then ministry.”

Chol, currently a member of South Sudan’s Council of States, served as Finance minister from 2005-2007. He also worked as head of finance for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) from 1997 until 2005, when the rebel group signed a peace deal with Khartoum and formed a government in Juba.

The ex-Finance minister said during his tenure, he initiated a strict operational policy, which reportedly prevented “corrupt” individuals from directly accessing funds during 2005 and 2006 when the new autonomous southern government had a massive influx of funds.

As part of the peace agreement, which ended decades of conflict, South Sudan became independent in July last year. Corruption is one of the major issues effecting the young nation as it struggles to develop a viable economy.

“This was the beginning of my accusations as a way to be impeached to allow easy access on public money by [a] few corrupt individuals within the governing system,” he said.

In a report tabled before members of the national assembly, the auditor general told shocked lawmakers how billions of public funds were allegedly misappropriated by government officials during the first two years of the southern government.

During the 2005-2006 financial years, for instance, the report said over $580 million in oil revenues was transferred from the then Government of National Unity (the power and wealth sharing partnership in Khartoum created by the 2005 deal) to the Government of South Sudan (GoSS).

However, the GoSS’s financial statement acknowledged the receipt of over $684 million, leaving over $1 billion unaccounted for.

The auditor general’s report also indicated that for two consecutive years there was no financial reporting of what happened to non-oil revenues that were collected in taxes by the national government or states.

Chol, however, said he remains in full support of the auditor general’s report to the national assembly, saying the government should take tougher measures to investigate the circumstance that led to the loss of all public funds. Those implicated, he reiterated, should be held accountable.

“I do acknowledge and commend the auditor general for having tabled the audit reports for the year 2005-2006 before the national assembly. In light of the current oil crisis and the austerity measures undertaken by the Government of South Sudan, I strongly recommend that proper investigations be carried out to determine actual truths to the matter at hand,” he said.

OIL DISPUTE

Chol, a holder of masters in economics from Switzerland, expressed concern over the ongoing oil crisis in the country following the nationwide shutdown oil production as part of a dispute with Khartoum over transit fees.

According to Chol, while serving as finance minister, he advised the government to concentrate more on collecting taxes from customs to avoid over dependency on oil revenues, which constitutes 98% of South Sudan’s budget.

“My advice was largely ignored,” he said. “Now see where the country is headed in light of the current oil crisis?”, he asked.

So far African Union led negotiations have failed to bring the two sides together. Juba wants to pay around $1 per barrel exported through northern pipelines and refineries, whereas Khartoum wants to be paid around $38 per a barrel.

North Sudan also claims the South owes $1 billion in unpaid fees and began to appropriate southern crude as payment in kind, triggering Juba’s decisive move.

(ST)