November 11, 2011 (JUBA) – The President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has fired the head of the anti-corruption commission, Pauline Riak, and replaced her with a judge from the Supreme Court.
In a move that appears to be an attempt to improve South Sudan’s poor track record at fighting corruption, President Kiir on Friday issued a presidential decree relieving the chairperson of the South Sudan anti-corruption commission and replacing her with Judge John Gatwech Lul.
Until his appointment, Gatwech was member of the Supreme Court of South Sudan. He was also one of the nine judges that served in the constitutional court in Khartoum before South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July.
The outgoing anti-corruption chief, Pauline Riak headed the commission since 2006 but no government official has been prosecuted for corruption. Kiir also reshuffled the chairpersons of commissions and independent bodies as well as undersecretaries in the ministries.
The president announced in September through his deputy, Riek Machar, that he was committed to ensuring that South Sudan “enters a new era of good governance, democracy, accountability and transparency.”
The new head of South Sudan’s Anti Corruption Commission (SSACC) will have a lot of work on his desk.
Probably at the top of Gatwech’s in-tray is the ongoing $2 billion grain scandal. Numerous fake businesses are believed to have been paid for grain and to build grain stores. Only 46 of the 90 grain stores planned in the project were built.
The South Sudanese Students Union (SSSU) in Kampala, an umbrella organisation of college and university students in Uganda, said earlier this year that many students will not be able to complete their studies due to funds allocated to them going missing.
The chairman of the group, Abraham Thon, has asked for an investigation claiming the funds had “disappeared between the ministry of finance and minister of higher education.”
LIST OF 13 CORRUPT MINISTERS
In August MP’s initially refused to approve South Sudan’s first cabinet as an independent country, demanding that Kiir release the names of a list of 13 ministers suspected of being involved in corruption.
However, despite their reservations MPs from the ruling SPLM, caved in under pressure from their party and approved the new cabinet despite suspecting that corrupt ministers may be among them.
The list of corrupt officials was handed to South Sudanese authorities by the US.
It is believed to include officials with excessively large accounts in foreign banks.
Many ministers from the previous government remain in the current cabinet.
POWER TO PROSECUTE?
This is not the first time Kiir has shuffled and re-arranged the SSACC.
In 2009 Kiir upgraded the anti-corruption commission to the status above that of a ministry. South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir had previously promised that the anti-graft commission would be granted the power to prosecute but it is yet to be brought into law.
However, the appointment of Gatwech, a judge, may signal that this is about to change. The power to prosecute continues to be in the hands of the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development.
No official has ever been prosecuted for involvement in corrupt practices since the establishment of the SSACC five years ago.
In September the SSACC released a report stating that it was investigating some 60 cases of corruption and was trying to recover more than SSP 120 million (approx. $20 million).
The report to the surprise of many, including Paul Akol MP, made no reference to the list of 13 top officials.
In April this year, shortly before South Sudan’s independence declaration in July, key donor countries warned, through the joint donor team (JDT), that Juba had to ensure future development aid was not mismanagement.
“Our mandate as joint donors is to provide technical and financial support to the southern government. However, we strongly feel that development aid allocated for specific purposes should not be wasted in corruption related practices,” Michael Elmquist, head of the JDT said.
A delegation from the European Union in July, told Juba that the fight against corruption in South Sudan will only be meaningful if the country’s parliamentarians adopt a tough and comprehensive approach towards ending it.
Ever since the Government of South Sudan was formed as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement it has been blighted by accusations of corruption. Since a referendum in January granted South Sudan independence donors, the media and the public have begun to take a harder line on corruption.