WASHINGTON, D.C. — On August 1, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin urging him to prioritize combating corruption in South Sudan, especially given U.S. involvement in the region. The letter noted multiple tools available to the Department of the Treasury that it could use to ensure that U.S. aid to South Sudan is received by the South Sudanese people and not by corrupt political and military leaders.
The World Bank estimates that corruption accounts for 2 percent of the global GDP and that businesses and individuals pay an estimated $1.5 trillion in bribes annually. In relative terms, that is 10 times the amount of money invested in overseas development assistance. Rampant corruption, especially in developing regions, causes worse healthcare systems, fuels illegal industries and disincentives foreign investment.
South Sudan is the world’s newest country. Since its independence from Sudan in 2011, the country has experienced near-constant conflict. The country is now embroiled in a civil war that has forced four million South Sudanese to relocate. So far in Fiscal Year 2017, the U.S. has given about $729 million in aid to South Sudan, primarily for humanitarian assistance to combat a declared famine.
A 2016 report by the Sentry, an organization committed to ending mass corruption in African states, found that corruption in South Sudan was a considerable issue. The report stated that while many in the country live in extreme poverty, South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and his political rival Riek Machar and their respective families and associates live in great wealth and luxury.
On multiple occasions, South Sudanese officials also complicated aid projects. The government blocked peacekeeper access to certain areas and increased the cost of foreign aid worker permits from $100 to $10,000.
To address corruption in South Sudan, Sens. Corker and Coons urged Mnuchin to investigate corruption, impose network-focused sanctions and identify hidden assets of corrupt South Sudanese officials. They also encouraged Mnuchin to work with anti-money laundering standard-setting bodies and South Sudan’s neighboring countries, Kenya and Uganda, to ensure that resources meant for South Sudan don’t flow outside of the country.
The senators further asked that Mnuchin hold meetings on corruption in South Sudan at the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations General Assembly.
Mass corruption in developing countries has been previously ameliorated. In the Dominican Republic, public officials, civil society, business leaders and citizens formed the Participatory Anti-Corruption Initiative. It resulted in lowered drug prices, improved medication quality and reduced public spending by 2014.
South Sudan is one of the most complicated contemporary geopolitical concerns. Nevertheless, it is evident that policymakers and organizations around the world are committed to a peaceful and sustainable solution to the crises, especially corruption in South Sudan.
– Sean Newhouse