President Salva Kiir has instructed the Economic Cluster of the transitional government to proceed with the economic reform agenda, following weeks of assessment of national revenue stream.
“We are making a lot of changes, a lot of reforms and he [Kiir] has blessed all these reforms as we put them into recommendations to him,” Dr. James Wani Igga, head of the Economic Cluster told SSBC on Thursday.
In July 2020, the Economic Cluster subcommittee conducted investigations on all revenue collection points to assess the amount being collected and how revenues are remitted into the public account.
In its preliminary findings, the committee stated that import taxes among others are still being channeled into private bank accounts.
It called for a thorough investigation into non-oil revenue theft that is believed to be diverted from the designated official account.
Several customs service officers have also accused their boss of malpractices, resulting in low-income generation.
The non-oil revenues are by law wired into the account of the National Revenue Authority.
Established in 2018, the National Revenue Authority is mandated to assess, collect, administrate and enforce laws relating to taxation and revenues.
It is meant to reduce dependency on oil revenues, strengthen non-oil revenue sector and strengthen expenditure control required to achieve short-term fiscal austerity objectives.
Its former Commissioner-General, a Ghanaian national, was seen as a reformist who briefly improved monthly collection of taxes in an accountable and transparent manner.
He initiated reforms which included proper hiring of employees by advertising existing positions and recruit new customs officers according to their academic qualifications.
Dr. Olympio Attipoe also spearheaded the establishment of a single treasury account to ensure public resources are not diverted into individual pockets.
Before his dismissal, Dr. Attipoe had threatened to name and shame government and bank officials who are still opposed to the single treasury account idea.
He accused some tax officials of conspiring with certain commercial bank operators to divert tax revenue into private accounts.
By then, Dr. Attipoe had enabled the collection of 7 billion South Sudanese Pounds and $35 million in just six months – January to June 2019.
After his removal, his successor stopped the announcement of monthly collections.
As a result, little or nothing is known about the revenues being generated.
Shortly after, Eye Radio reported how some questionable transactions were made by NRA officials following several leaked documents.
But recent revelations by the Director-General of Customs Service show there exists a separate account known as ‘Account Two’ for wiring taxes, contrary to the laws governing the Revenue Authority.
This is after some Customs Service officers accused their boss of corruption and nepotism.
General Ayii Akol, however, denies any wrongdoing but admits to channeling the money into another account allegedly managed by the revenue authority.
The revitalized peace agreement provides for public financial management reforms.
It mandates the Ministry of Finance and Planning to ensure that all public financial and budgetary commitments entered into by the new unity government are transparent, competitive and per the laws of the country and internationally accepted norms and practices for the management of public finances.
The agreement expects a review and implementation of a strategic national development plan to accelerate progress in achieving a sustainable and resilient national economy.
Last month, President Salva Kiir admitted that non-oil revenues are not being fully remitted into the single block account of the National Revenue Authority.
He said the country has been unable to compensate for the fall in oil revenues with none oil revenue collections.
President Kiir added that when collected and well managed, the non-oil revenue should be able to meet the government’s expenditure.
The president announced that the government will be exploring ways and means to speedily rectify the situation so that at the very least, it can pay monthly salaries on time.
The Economic Cluster headed by Vice President Dr. James Wani Igga presented its findings on non-oil revenue collections to the President on Thursday.
Dr. Igga said they all agree that urgent reforms are needed to improve revenue collections.
“As a result of the findings, we really clean up the country from corrupt practices and diversions,” he continued.
Some South Sudanese say part of the recommendations that will require the direct engagement of the President is to appoint a new professional and trustworthy Commissioner-General of the National Revenue Authority.
In January, Transparency International once again ranked South Sudan as the world’s second most corrupt country.
It falls just one point below Somalia.
According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, the level of corruption in the country is perpetuated by lack of “political accountability to facilitate anti-corruption mechanisms.”
It noted that years of civil wars have also contributed to high-level corruption in some cases, involving members of the ruling class.
Previous reports by The Sentry, a US-based watchdog, also revealed that political and military incentives favor extreme violence and grand corruption over peace and good governance in South Sudan.
But the government has often dismissed such reports, saying they are unsubstantiated and meant to blackmail the country.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, South Sudan was said to receive about 5 million U.S dollars a day from the oil revenue.
In March, the First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar said corruption is a “stigma” that the unity government should fight to redeem its tarnished image.
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