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Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

South Sudan wants owners of bogus companies to turn themselves in

June 11, 2013 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s political rhetoric on “zero tolerance” on corruption seems to take a serious step that deserves attention as the ministry of justice has finally acted by giving an ultimatum to hundreds of companies that went away with hundreds of millions of money without evidence of contracts signed during the infamous Dura Saga looting spree.

Nearly 500 companies, majority of which were paper briefcase companies without offices or considerable records in business, were given or said to have been given contracts to implement the project of the ministry of finance and economic planning. The project implemented in 2008 and 2009 was to distribute food to the ten states on behalf of the government as part of the strategic food reserve program aimed at avoiding a looming hunger crisis.

When the news went out that the ministry of finance was looking for companies to implement its project, the ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development by then, now Justice, was packed with hundreds of individuals seeking to register new companies in order to rush to the finance ministry and secure contracts.

The ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development in 2008 and 2009 under the current minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Michael Makuei Lueth, had to register such new paper companies in hundreds as they were rushing to the ministry of finance for Dura [maize] delivery contracts to the states.

The contracts were to give the companies some money out of the contract value in order to deliver the grain to the designated states and later on receive the full payment upon receipt of delivery.

The contracts were done in the ministry of finance under the former finance ministers Kuol Athian and David Deng Athorbei.

Some of those contracted truly delivered, but about 90% of the companies did not deliver while claimed due payments to them by the ministry of finance according to an official in the finance ministry.

Some of those that delivered were paid their dues as well as many of those that did not deliver.

However, others from both categories were not paid when the new minister of finance, Kosti Manibe, stopped the payments.

The worst category is 290 companies who went away with nearly half a billion South Sudanese pounds but have no records of any contracts signed with them in the ministry of finance and economic planning. Some other hundreds of companies have signed contracts but have not delivered at all despite the fact that they suspiciously colluded with some of the state governments and obtained “false” certificates of receipt or delivery.

A committee was formed by the minister of Justice, John Luk Jok, to investigate and prosecute all those categories who have cheated the government.

In a widely circulated and broadcast order dated 5th June 2013, issued by the ministry of Justice, the 290 listed companies that have no records of contracts or missing files from the ministry of finance are asked to report themselves to the committee within two weeks from the date of order or else a legal action will be taken against them.

They are asked to bring with them their respective three documents which include certified copy of memorandum and articles of association by the Business Registry Department in the Ministry of Justice; certificate of incorporation; and documents supporting payment.

It is to be seen whether this latest development will bear any fruit as previous investigations or revelations on gross acts of corruption have gone silent after public consumption without any individuals implicated, investigated or prosecuted.

President Salva Kiir last year publicly and in parliament revealed that 75 of his former and current senior officials had “stolen” $4 billion dollars and sent them a letter individually asking them to bring back the money.

When the parliament deliberated on his statement and passed a resolution directing the president to suspend and investigate those 75, the president reportedly reacted by attempting to dissolve the parliament, said an MP; which was seen as a failed test on his political will to fight corruption. “The talk about the 75 is now almost a forgotten history,” said the lawmaker.

Kiir also reportedly fired the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Professor Nyamlell Wako, for uttering that Kiir’s government was “rotten from top to bottom”.

A week later president Kiir however proved Nyamlell right when he suspended his most senior administrators in his own office, suspecting them of involving in corruption as hundreds of thousands, sometimes reported in millions, got lost in the country’s highest office.

An investigation committee was formed by the president himself under the current chair of anti-corruption graft, John Gatwec, to investigate the office of the president and recommend any legal action thereafter. But there is no public announcement on the findings despite the fact that the report was rendered to the office of the president a week ago by the investigation committee.

Another test on political will and seriousness to fight corruption is the ongoing wrangles between the minister of finance, Kosti Manibe, and about 9 other senior officials in his ministry.

A Sudan Tribune journalist who went to the ministry of finance and economic planning said the minister had issued an order last week firing some and reassigning or transferring others among the senior officials he suspected of under-performances or malpractices. The senior officials have resisted to respect the order and threatened the minister to withdraw the order.

An official in the finance ministry told Sudan Tribune that the senior officials have taken their case to the office of the president with the hope that the minister of finance will be asked to reverse his decision.

Most of the corruption cases in the finance ministry occurred during the tenures of the three former ministers who are publicly known by their three ‘As’ middle names; Akwen, Athian and Athorbei.

In 2007 the government attempted to detain the former minister Akwen Chol for suspected act of corruption but was released by a successful force of defiance to the rule of law as elements from his community of Aweil in northern Bahr el Ghazal state organized themselves and stormed the detention centre where Akwen was being kept.

Akwen also blackmailed higher authorities by threatening to reveal other top leaders who could be partners in corruption if he was not let alone. The former official is now a free man.

(ST)