South Sudan government officials embezzled $36m in last four year: UN panel says

By Deng Machol

President Salva Kiir recently fired his Finance Minister

Juba – The United Nations Human Rights Commission has said South Sudan’s high – ranking politicians and bureaucrats siphoned off at least $36 million in public funds since 2016.

Wednesday’s report by the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan came six days after President Salva Kiir fired the country’s finance minister, the acting head of the National Revenue Authority, as well as the director of the state-owned oil company.

The September 17 reshuffle at the financial institutions came after South Sudan’s reserves of foreign currency crashed, prompting a 37 percent slump in the value of the South Sudanese pound against the US dollar.

Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson for UN Human Rights Commission explained that their findings revealed illicit financial flow from two key institutions in the world youngest nation.

“Our Commission has uncovered brazen embezzlement by senior politicians and government officials, together with a number of entities linked to the government,” Yasmin Sooka told the UN panels during the teleconference on Wednesday. “We can reveal the misappropriation of a staggering $36m since 2016. It is worth noting this is just what we were able to trace and may not reflect the whole picture.”

The amount is what the institution was able to trace for the last 4 years, according to the commission’s chairperson, adding that much more remains unaccounted for.

Sooka added that the figure relates to illegal financial movements from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and from the National Revenue Authority.

“Shockingly, these South Sudanese bodies have been aided and abetted in these crimes by a number of international corporations and multinational banks. Some of this money has been laundered through the purchase of properties abroad. Indeed, those properties may well be in your countries.”

The Juba government is yet to respond this UN report.

But earlier this month, the national revenue authority had informed a South Sudan parliamentary committee that the country lost -to tax exemptions – almost 40 billion South Sudanese Pounds in just three months alone.

Similarly, the Economic Crises Management Committee set up by president Salva Kiir discovered that $3.1 million had disappeared at the Directorate of Nationalities, Passport and Immigration.

The traffic police headquarters has also been accused of not accounting for funds collected through the issuance of number plates, licenses, and the logbooks.

However, the UN Human Rights commission, set up in 2016, has previously accused South Sudan politicians of pocketing state funds and – believes that some of these revenues have been stashed abroad.

“South Sudan is a country where lives are being destroyed by financial corruption on an epic scale,” Sooka said. “Looting and pillage aren’t just offshoots of war, they are arguably the main drivers of the conflict.

South Sudan, turned ninth year old in July 9, is struggling to cope with the aftermath of a six-year civil war that killed nearly 380,000 people and uprooted four million people both internally and externally, before it crippled the output of crude oil, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the state revenue.

Sooka further said “at one end of the spectrum, South Sudan’s political elites are fighting for control of the country’s oil and mineral resources, in the process stealing their people’s future. At the other, the soldiers in this conflict over resources are offered the chance to abduct and rape women in lieu of salaries. The eight-year-old girl gang-raped in front of her parents is the collateral damage.”

Several reports carried out by campaign groups such as The Sentry, Global Witness and Transparency International showed that the leaders have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars with the help of foreign businesspeople – all attributed on lack of financial accountability and transparency coupled with impunity.

On corruption also, of recently, the United States department of the treasury’s office of foreign assets control (OFAC) imposed more economic sanctions on Nabah Ltd, a company owned by Sudanese businessman Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal for reportedly depositing and holding funds for South Sudanese officials outside of the world’s youngest nation in an attempt to avoid sanctions.

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