South Sudan said it is the victim of an “international campaign” following a UN report that accused the country’s governing elite of looting tens of millions of dollars from public coffers.
Last week, the UN’s Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said a “staggering” amount of money and other wealth had been diverted from public coffers and resources – more than $73m since 2018, with almost $39m stolen during a period of less than two months.
The loot UN warned risks upsetting an already fragile peace process in the world’s newest nation, which has struggled to emerge from five years of civil war following independence in 2011.
“This plundering also continues to fuel political competition amongst elites, and is a key driver of the ongoing conflict, violations and serious crimes, jeopardising the prospects for sustainable peace,” it said in a report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Reacting to the report on Monday, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Martin Elia Lomuro said “These are the organisations that are sponsored not to see political stability in South Sudan and they will move from one thing to the other, from human rights to corruption, from corruption to something else”.
“This country is sovereign … if the government has mismanaged anything; it’s only the people of South Sudan who can hold this government accountable, not external forces.”
The figure of $73m was only a fraction of the overall amount looted the UN report said, adding that, in 2012, President Salva Kiir admitted that South Sudan’s governing elites had diverted more than $4bn.
The investigations revealed the involvement of politicians, government officials, international corporations, military personnel, and multinational banks in these “crimes”.
South Sudan’s elites were accused by the commission of deliberately adopting a “highly informal” system of oil revenue collection, without independent oversight and transparency, thus enabling the misappropriation of public funds.
“Similarly flawed, non-transparent processes for contract payments, procurements, and revenue are operated illicitly to divert non-oil revenues,” it said in a press release on Thursday.
In support of the report are rights campaigners who called on citizens to ask tough questions of the country’s lawmakers.
“The oil money is flowing … but it is not reflected [in] the lives of the people in the country, so the report is not far from the truth,” Bol Deng Bol, executive director of rights group Intrepid South Sudan said.
“I would urge the people of South Sudan to see how their finances are being spent.”
The report said it had identified several individuals allegedly linked to rights violations and economic crimes have been identified the report said, adding that the names would be passed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for possible investigation or prosecution.