Sudanese soldiers keep watch over government officers during protests against the military coup in 2021 © Photo by AFP via Getty Images
Sudanese soldiers keep watch over government officers during protests against the military coup in 2021 © Photo by AFP via Getty Images

How corruption made $1bn for essential supplies 'vanish'

6 October 2022

Nearly a billion dollars in credit awarded to the government of South Sudan vanished as contracts were awarded to cronies and shell companies, with little left to show for the loan, according to a damning report.

South Sudan received the credit from Qatar National Bank (QNB) and CfC Stanbic Bank in Kenya between 2012 and 2015 to procure vital supplies such fuel, food and medicine.

But an investigation by advocacy group The Sentry found that most of the money was spent on million-dollar contracts to foreign firms, non-existent contractors and middlemen and – above all – companies close to the regime.

It alleged businesses with connections to the ruling class—including president Salva Kiir’s family and other officials, had received contracts collectively worth tens of millions of dollars under the programme, said The Sentry.

Its three-year investigation alleged that millions of dollars’ worth of essential pharmaceuticals, fuel, and food were never delivered.

“The funds, officially meant to deliver fuel, food, and medicine across South Sudan, disappeared into a maze of international shell companies that never provided any goods or services, leaving people to die as hospitals were gutted of medicine and neonatal ward generators went cold,” said the report.

“Almost $1bn effectively walked out of the country, and the human cost remains to be calculated.”

Even at the height of the programme, South Sudan attorney general Stephen Wondu sounded a note of alarm.

He reported “a confusing, disjointed system of documents and signatures that corrupt actors circumvented or subverted”.

Wondu’s report – which stated how the programme was failing but did not identify which companies or individuals were benefiting from the funds – went before parliament in 2015.

He asked parliament to prosecute people who had misused funds, but this did not happen.

In 2021 South Sudan was rated the most corrupt country in the world on Transparency International’s Perceived Corruption Index for the second year in a row.

The UN said in September 2021 that “more than $73m was diverted since 2018, including transactions worth almost $39m in a period of less than two months”.

The Sentry said that while the full scope of the fraud may never be uncovered, measures to improve transparency in spending public funds in South Sudan were vital.

These included the government developing a public corporate register as well as identifying and investigating and if necessary, prosecuting firms that received funds.

It called on the government to create a centralised “e-transparency platform” – which would include procurement deals – to tackle corruption within state contracting and to implement an external third-party audit and investigation into the spending.

The report also urged the governments of the US, Kenya and Uganda to investigate illicit money flows and on the banks involved to initiate independent third-party audits to investigate their roles in the scandal.

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