Corruption claims spark new concerns about aid to South Sudan
08 Apr 2021

When the pandemic struck, many feared South Sudan could be one of the hardest hit countries in Africa – years of conflict had hollowed out its healthcare system and the threat of famine was on the horizon.

Heeding the warnings, the European Union, the United States and the World Bank chipped in more than $100m for the COVID-19 response, while the International Monetary Fund has given some $200m in loans.

Worrying death toll projections have yet to materialise – fewer than 150 people have died of the virus in the past year despite a recent uptick in cases – but familiar patterns of alleged profiteering emerged after the first cases were reported.

A black market appeared for COVID-19 tests that were supposed to be free. An inflated contract was awarded to a company to renovate a hospital that still sits empty. And the government authorised one small outfit to produce hand sanitiser – while banning imports of the product as people scrambled to find supplies. The New Humanitarian found these and other examples after interviewing nearly 30 government officials, business owners and aid workers, as well as reviewing documents, emails and text messages as part of an eight-month investigation with Al Jazeera.

“Every time there is a crisis, the government ignores its citizens, relies on international aid, (and) doesn’t help its own people,” said Edmund Yakani, head of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, or CEPO, a civil society group in South Sudan.

South Sudan would not be alone in falling prey to alleged profiteering schemes linked to the pandemic. In Brazil, more than 1,500 criminal cases have been opened into coronavirus-related corruption, while the United States and Britain have been caught up in scandals involving COVID-19 funds and equipment.

But in South Sudan – one of the world’s top beneficiaries of foreign aid – schemes that arose after the pandemic followed a familiar pattern: Donors respond to crises and aid groups are left to shoulder the country’s humanitarian needs while South Sudan spends little on its own people, according to citizens, analysts, former diplomats and aid workers who spoke to reporters.

That imbalance has rankled some and sparked fresh discussions about whether there is a better way to provide aid in South Sudan – even though it is unclear whether funds for the COVID-19 response were misappropriated.

“The wealth of this country – from oil and elsewhere – bypasses its people, siphoned off in secrecy with no public accountability for how it is spent,” said David Shearer, the United Nations’ head of mission in South Sudan, in his final address to the UN Security Council in March. The international community, he noted, had failed to question its role in South Sudan’s continuing dependence on foreign aid.

“True sovereignty means responsibility – being responsible – to really care, in a tangible and demonstrable way, for all the nation’s 12 million citizens,” Shearer said.

Some government leaders have said such sentiments smack of colonialism.

“Our friends when they come, they come with high assumptions (that) they know it all,” said Mayen Machut Achiek, the health ministry’s undersecretary.

COVID-19 scandals around the world

With COVID-19 ravaging the world and death tolls climbing, some officials last year saw a money-making opportunity in the desperate need for medical equipment, supplies and, now, vaccines. Here are just a few of the alleged scandals that made headlines around the world.

(see map in the full article)

Aid tensions

In January, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, released a worrying report (PDF), detailing an overview of South Sudan’s bleak humanitarian situation and noting escalating violence against aid workers.

Renewed fighting last year had resulted in the relocation of aid workers, ambushes of humanitarian convoys, the looting of lifesaving supplies and the targeting of relief workers based on ethnic identities, the report noted.

Opaque bureaucratic and regulatory snags had also resulted in “diverted resources that would have otherwise been used for lifesaving supplies”, the report noted.

Read more at Aljazeera

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