Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 10 April 2009

More alms isn’t the solution to the financial crisis


By Justin Ambago Ramba

April 9, 2009 — Though known to be rich in natural resources and literally floating over a huge oil reserve of billions of barrels, South Sudan remains one of the poorest places in the world.

The region has just come out of one of Africa’s longest civil wars which pitted the northern Arabs, for well over five decades against the southern black Africans, in a separate conflict to the current Darfur crisis in the western region of the Sudan, yet south Sudan’s poverty and its current financial problems cannot be entirely blamed on the civil war.

This is Africa, and the politics here are no different from the rest of the continent’s politics. Africa generally is known to be rich in raw materials and a home to vast natural resources, but it is much better known in the international arena as a continent entirely depending on the International Aid with very little hope of ever emerging from its chronic poverty.

Amazingly though, during their five decades’ long liberation wars the ordinary south Sudanese citizens’ after having suffered in the hands of the European colonizers and lately the Arab hegemony, were basically struggling to achieve an independent state which they would refer to as their free homeland, whereas the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) had the unpopular slogan of a united New Sudan, a view point that can hardly sell in south Sudan.

Now it is four years since the war ended but south Sudan still remains far behind the rest of the world. It is also unfortunate that though given this time lapse the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation movement (SPLM) has failed in many aspects to deliver the peace dividends to the poor people of south Sudan who risked everything during the war in the hope of having a better future for their children and themselves.

Politics can on many occasions become completely unpredictable, and this is exactly what happened to the people of south Sudan. The charismatic leader late Dr. Garang was much admired worldwide and loved, though not by everybody in south Sudan still remains to be missed by the masses in the implementation of the CPA in as far as the democratic transformation in the Sudan is concerned and above all the journey towards the 2011 referendum to decide the fate of the region for the long awaited independence which late Garang himself remained opposed to in preference of a secular New United Sudan. His (late Garang) views on this particular issue is not much shared by the southern Sudanese, as mentioned earlier.

To those who have no clue, the way the late leader conducted business in the bush war years can clearly be seen in the way his chosen deputies are now not only struggling on daily basis to run the government of the semi-autonomous south Sudan, but are even risking the very survival of south Sudan as a governable unit as everything in the region has become at stake, leave alone making it a safe home for the devastated population which is badly in need of a night without a gunshot.

As the SPLM/A walked from the bush to its headquarters in the city of Juba, its was hailed and welcomed by the people of south Sudan, only to end up with this government which always talks of having started from the scratch, but so are the situations in Liberia and many post civil war African countries where they also had to start from the scratch.

Yet the SPLM/A should consider itself lucky to have started with a fat oil based economy and ready post Addis Ababa Agreement (an agreement that ended the first civil war between 1955-1972) government buildings in Juba to start with (as opposed to the previously proposed capital city of Ramciel where not even a single structure actually exists or Rumbek Town which is struggling with its local politics) and a fat oil based economy. And instead of taking off from there, it became a reason for the government’s slow down in tackling the basic needs of maintaining a viable nation while continuously reciting the over used phrase,”we are starting from the scratch “…………..of course after a two decades of a war that left no stone unturned, we expect to face some hurdles specially when our immediate actions were dominated by labeling everything that existed as an enemy’s legacy (Jallaba left over). This was a view initially adopted by the SPLM led GoSS that deprived it from the services or advices of many well experienced south Sudanese who remained and served in the government held areas of south Sudan or in the northern parts of the country and in particular those hailing from the minority groups.

As time went by, the top GoSS officials unfortunately chose to interpret “ the starting from scratch” to literally mean that they started to run the GoSS with empty personal accounts which they have to quickly fill with the public money. With this in mind, whosoever came in office gave their immediate priorities to their personal and individual development while the noble issue of nation building only received the second attention.

The four years in office is time enough for any government with clearly defined goals to come forwards and say exactly how far it has achieved on its planned program. This we are not seeing with the Salva Kiir’s cabinet.

To the best of my personal deduction, it seems that the present day government in south Sudan has been so much influenced by its Arab dominated partner, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), and as we can all see, the current SPLM dominated GOSS is not in any way worried of being kicked out of office by the electorates as a result of its poor performance, and as such it is taking everyone in south Sudan for granted

If Salva Kiir and company would want to remain in office, then this should be through a democratic process as stipulated in the CPA, but anything less than that is very…. very dangerous, because all the concerned south Sudanese are not going to stand –by and watch while the current GOSS takes us down the drain.

It is obvious at this stage that the GoSS has completely gone broke both in money and stamina. It could not pay the salaries for months gone and may not be able to do so for months to come. It has lost its credibility in the eyes of the south Sudanese citizens from the way it lately handles the grave insecurity engulfing the entire region. Worse still is that the GOSS is unable to attract any foreign investment to this very rich regions of the earth simply because its (GoSS) performance is not the type that can attract anybody to invest with them.

The Bank of South Sudan (BOSS) accordingly is practically out of cash largely due to gross mismanagements as confessed by its governor Mr. Elijah Malok (Sudan Tribune) and so is the Nile Commercial Bank also another SPLM/A establishment.

What is unfolding in the South Sudan is a serious government failure due to massive corruption and the inherent culture of impunity which dates back to the bush war days of the south Sudanese civil war.

Going by what was discussed in the Fifth Governors’ Forum held in Juba in March 2009, the GoSS outlined its problems which were in fact dominated by the looming financial crisis. Salva Kiir pointed out that Sudan existed even before the oil was discovered and it was able to pay its salaries and function well as a nation using its resources which were mainly agricultural. Kiir blames the southerners of abandoning their past economic activities in order to depend on oil money which is now unreliable.

Kiir also drew the attention of the people to the fact that they have left all the jobs mainly in the hotels, constructions and business sectors to the foreigners who are carrying away the money. He also questioned as to where the heavy taxes which is collected at the borders go given the huge magnitude of the trans- border trading.

The minister of finance raised the issue of lack of clear budget from the state governments and the lack of accountability and transparency in how the state governments spend the grant monies given to them.

The minister of information, Mr. Changson Chang discussed the role of the civil service in improving the government performance in south Sudan if it is developed.
The governor of Lakes state Mr. Awet brought up the issue of the big excess in the number of civil servants who are being paid while doing no any jobs at all.

The governor of the BOSS at a different setting brought up the issue of top government official who used to cash very huge cheques which he things is part of the corruption in the GoSS that has led to the current state of affairs.

Again Mr. Mawein, minister of Finance stressed the sharp decline in the oil prices and funny enough he also said something about the oil wells in Heglig to have produced only 20% oil while the 80 % was water and he also reflected the usually delays in money transfer from Khartoum to Juba and all these.

We are also aware that there are a lot of irregularities in the office of the President as well as the Ministry for Presidential Affairs where both offices have very much over spent beyond their allotted budgets for the fiscal year 2008 and as it is the case this is no near in any way to leadership by example.

So the GoSS is in fact aware that it needs to find other sources of financing besides the unreliable oil revenues as it needs to reform its public service and financial system. It needs to downsize its payroll as it also needs to reclaim back the monies looted and send the perpetuators to the prison. And the least thing it needs is to beg money from foreigners and outsiders.

Those who still want to put their money into this rotten set of a system which currently runs south Sudan administration, would intentionally be breeding the most resistant of all corruption bugs in the entire continent that could later be difficult to eradicate without shedding blood given the delicate social fabric and ethnic backgrounds of the fed up people of south Sudan.

It is no secret that those involved in the mess in south Sudan today, have practically established a petty bourgeoisie class using the public money, with an intention to continue to buy their seats in the government even if comes the 2011 referendum for the self determination. This fact is not eluding the commoners in south Sudan and one day every penny stolen today will be retrieved and must be retrieved.

To those who wish good for the people of south Sudan, I appeal that they should refrain from taking us through the same routes walked by the Congo or Nigeria, where poverty remains rampant in the midst of abundance.

Do not give us money that we cannot be able to pay back without risking our own dignity. If you are our friends and you really wish us well, then help us to make money from our own resources. Help us to govern ourselves through the rule of law. Help us to adopt the peaceful transformation into a democracy and adopt the civilized culture peaceful transfer of power through the ballot and not bullet.

The GoSS has already officially declared that it is in the midst of a financial crisis. Foreign donors and Aid agencies have been made aware by the minister of Finance, Kuol Athian Mawein, and his colleagues at the ministry for Presidential Affairs Dr. Luka Biong Deng and the custodian of the GoSS money, the governor of the Bank of South Sudan (BOSS), Mr. Elijah Malok Aleng.

Not much can be argued as far as the roles played by the small NGO’s in providing emergency assistances in situations of disasters e.g. the current victims of the inter tribal clashes in the Jonglei State, where nearly one thousand people from the Murle tribe mainly women and children lost their lives and over 6 thousands are displaced, and so is the case with those who were also displaced in the Western Equatoria State by the LRA or the displaced people of Abyei.

But the disaster posed by foreign aid mainly lies with the big monies usual given to the GoSS by either foreign governments or international bodies like the International Monetary Fund, or the World Bank.

However any foreign financial inputs, be they grants or debts that are well meant to improve the lives of the millions of poor people who are living on less than one dollar a day, will unfortunately end up in the already distended bellies of the corrupt ministers and senior government officials, so what is the point of engaging in it ?

The responsibility of how the public money is being mismanaged in south Sudan lies with the GoSS, with Salva Kiir, Dr. Riek Machar, Dr Luka Biong, Mr. Elijah Malok, Mr. Wani Igga, and Mr. Mawein; these are the first on the list to bear the blames. These high government figures are behind all the gross corruption existing in south Sudan, and they are well aware of all the minute details of who did what and who took what, thus making them the first culprits who should be the first to be investigated if one day the government of the people’s choice becomes instated in office.

But as long as these very people are still in power in south Sudan, no amount of money put in by foreign players in form of alms will ever get the poverty stricken south Sudan out of the current financial mess.

It is true that there are very high voices outside there who are talking aloud to see that more aid money is pumped into this leaking bowl of the GoSS. Please for God’s sake, your free money is in fact the main reason for our backwardness as it only turns us from diligent farmers, laborers and workers into lazy and unmotivated beggars.

For how long are the people of south Sudan going to live on the alms coming from the effluent countries when they have a land rich in everything that can make a happy people if only they can have the right government in place?
South Sudanese have become mentally static to the extend that despite the rich oil reserves, the abundant animal wealth, the vast agricultural land, with the Nile, the greatest of all rivers flowing twenty four hours a day, yet we still shamelessly import things like fish, cabbage, tomatoes, pumpkins, maize, drinking water, ………… name it.

The World Bank, the Joint Donor Team (JDT), the different NGOs and others foreign governments who are doing business with south Sudan should be held accountable for underestimating the current level of corruption in the GoSS as they have chosen to cover it up and would never want to speak about it.

I repeat that recently many conspiring voices have been heard calling for more alms for south Sudan. Some even are advocating for doubling the aid and others even would want to pay the salaries for the soldiers…etc.

Yet there is much evidence gathered by economic experts from the African continent and elsewhere that this type of foreign aid has turned the situation in many other African countries from being poor countries to a more unbearable poverty and has practically converted them to mere begging communities.

We must not underrate the fact that this habit of acquiring foreign aid which initially seems fine can in the long run lead us down the drain with unbearable loads of foreign debts to be passed down to our grandchildren, gross inflations and the emergence of a less conducive environment which will never attract any big and quality investments.

What we need is a new way out and not to tread the same malignant foreign aid pathway which I repeat, is largely behind the chronic underdevelopment, backwardness and the endless poverty in many resources rich countries in Africa.

The author is a Sudanese doctor living in the UK and can be reached at: justinramba@doctors.org.uk.

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