What do we make of the missing bags of corn?

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Friday, 13 November 2009 19:00
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Akol Aguek
(VERMONT USA) - Do I really need to spend my limited time on this story? Sure, I will try because it is important. Anyway, for the past few weeks, so much has been written about the missing bags of corn due to the scandal caused by the officials of the GoSS Ministry of Finance at least over a year ago. I personally had an insider assessment on what actually happened from a very credible GoSS official who had a clear knowledge of what happened that created this public relations nightmare for the SPLM led Government of Southern Sudan.

Let us walk through the story stage by stage to arrive at where the GoSS ministry of finance officials moved off the track from pursuing what to their opinions at the time would serve the larger public good for all southern Sudanese.

This whole affair goes back to the world economy. Right before the subprime mortgage crunch plunged the world economy into free fall, there was a huge huge energy demand in the world market, and that flushed the nations living off of petro dollars with a lot of cash more than they can spend, and since Sudan is one of those nation endowed with oil, it got its share of higher oil revenue from rising oil prices.  And to that end, the Government of Southern Sudan was basically given its “50 percent” of oil revenue assuming that “the master in the dark” was honest with its numbers to give the South its deserved share.

Now, according to my source, the condition attached to the money by NCP led GONU was it had to be spent otherwise if it isn’t spent until the following financial year appropriations, that money would go back to the national treasury where it would be reallocated to the region where it is needed the most. And to add to that complexity was the presence of the UN and other NGO’s who were asking GoSS to donate the money to their relief efforts in Southern Sudan if they cannot spend it. That is the story according to this credible GoSS official whom I had a long conversation with for more than two hours.

It isn’t clear if the GoSS Executive or Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly were kept abreast on the decision being made by the ministry of finance but that is a separate matter altogether that warrants an opinion piece of its own. Now, the decision then arrived at by the folks at the ministry of finance was to spend the money on getting food supplies to Southern Sudanese in order to avoid NCP run GONU reclaiming the money and declare them as incompetent and/or prevent the UN or other NGO’s from spending it on GoSS behalf, and claiming credits for saving lives of starving Southerners when in fact the GoSS can directly spend the money on its own people and earn credit for it.  It was a great decision, wasn’t it? Yes, it was! We want the GoSS to work on Southern Sudanese behalf and be credited for the job well done just as it is assailed for its failures.

The next step was to decide on what to spend the money on, and the decision reached was spending it on corn inventory to cushion the needy population of Southerners from starving. Again, it was a noble idea because the problem of starvation is what needed to be eradicated outright before other priorities can come to the forefront.  Then came the decision to find the corn dealers who can procure enough supplies to feed the southerners, and what resulted was a scandal! The lack of prohibition of conflict of interests and kickbacks simply resulted in Southerners being looted in the broad daylight by corrupt government officials who were simply trying to find ways to siphon off this national treasury for their own personal ends in the name of doing public good. So, the scheme went ahead where these shameless individuals created phony contracts with phony corn dealers whom the money got transferred to their accounts but never delivered a single grain of corn in return. You got to be kidding if it did happen! Yes, it did, and the GoSS is now rocked by the public relations nightmare trying to find out where the money went.

I was trying to sift through this information to weave out anything that looks like this in the modern times, and the only story that almost mirror this looting spree on national wealth was Kenyan 1993 Goldenberg Scandal in which President Moi’s Administration made a deal with an Indian Gold trafficker, Kamlesh Pattni, to pay him millions of Kenyan shillings in return for gold that never got delivered to the national treasury.  It ended up costing Kenya over 10% gross domestic product but to this day, nobody has been taken to jail or paid price for it.

To end my boring piece here is to say that a lot needs to be explored as to why the GONU was pressuring the GoSS to spend the money when it had nothing to do with running Southern Sudan in the first place but there is no time to get to that in this article. The bottom line is the idea to spend the money on bags of corn to feed the starving millions of Southerners was a noble one, and nobody can argue against it. The downside is the money vanished and nothing has been delivered by the supposed contracted corn dealers. It just speaks to the hollowness of the system that isn’t safeguarding public treasury from heartless officials and their phony businesspeople who cannot dare to think of the lives lost for the cause that made it possible for them sit in those fancy offices in Juba.

The story simply gives us a food for thought that the ideas always circulated by GoSS Officials about how to solve the problems of Southern Sudanese are great, and they can surely make a difference. Having said this, however, there has to be a control system in place to ensure that any public dime spent in the name of implementing those “great ideas” is rightly accounted for, and/or is recovered if not well spent.  The ministry of finance is to be credited for bringing this news to the open. We will have to wait and see how it all plays out in the court of public opinion which is the only watchdog on behalf of Southern Sudanese at least for now.

*Akol Aguek Ngong is a NewSudanVision.Com Contributor, and Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA.