South Sudan dismisses UN report on corruption

The UN's Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan warned last week that the plunder risks derailing 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.

FILE: South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (R) and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar shake hands as they agree to a peace deal at the 33rd Extraordinary Summit of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa, on 12 September 2018. Picture: AFP.

JUBA - South Sudan's government said on Monday it was the victim of an "international campaign" as it rejected a UN report accusing the country's ruling elite of looting tens of millions of dollars from public coffers.

The UN's Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan warned last week that the plunder risks derailing 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.

The commission said a "staggering" amount of money and other wealth had been diverted from public coffers and resources - more than $73 million (62 million euros) since 2018, with almost $39 million stolen over a period of less than two months.

"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.

Juba hit back on Monday, with the minister of cabinet affairs, Martin Elia Lomuro, dismissing the report as part of "an international campaign... against this government".

"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," Lomuro told AFP.

"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," he added.

The UN report said that the figure of $73 million was only a fraction of the overall amount looted, adding that President Salva Kiir had admitted as far back as 2012 that South Sudan's ruling elites had diverted more than $4 billion.

It said its investigations revealed the involvement of politicians, government officials, international corporations, military personnel, and multinational banks in these "crimes".

The commission accused South Sudan's elites of deliberately adopting a "highly informal" system of oil revenue collection, without independent oversight and transparency, thus enabling the misappropriation of public funds.

'NOT FAR FROM TRUTH'

Rights campaigners backed the report and 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, told AFP.

"I would urge the people of South Sudan to (wake up) to see how their finances are being spent."

The impoverished country, which ranks last on Transparency International's corruption index along with Somalia, is almost entirely dependent on earnings from oil.

Following a 2018 ceasefire and a power-sharing deal between Kiir and his rival turned deputy Riek Machar, the peace process has shown few signs of progress.

The report said it had identified several individuals allegedly linked to rights violations and economic crimes whose names would be passed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for possible investigation or prosecution.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.