President Salva Kiir of South Sudan says corrupt officials have stolen billions of dollars from his impoverished country. He is asking for the money to be returned.
In a letter that reveals a shocking level of government corruption, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is asking more than 75 former and current senior government officials to hand back an estimated $4 billion in stolen funds.
"We fought for freedom, justice and equality," the president's letter says. "Yet once we got to power, we forget what we fought for and begun to enrich ourselves at the expense of the people."
He added "Many people in South Sudan are suffering, yet some government officials simply care about themselves."
The authenticity of the letter, which was obtained by the news agency AP, has been confirmed by information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin.
Amnesty and confidentiality promised
The president wrote that South Sudan's citizens and the international community were alarmed by levels of corruption and the credibility of the government was on the line.
He promised an amnesty for officials who returned stolen funds and to keep the identities of those officials confidential.
Corruption has plagued South Sudan's government since the 2005 peace deal which ended more than 20 years of civil war with Sudan. In January, South Sudan's auditor general reported that nearly $1.5 billion were unaccounted for in the fiscal year 2005 to 2006.
Kenya active in anti-corruption drive
Information minister Benjamain confirned that the president is asking for the return of $4 bn in stolen government money
Kiir says he has stepped up efforts to fight corruption and on Friday his office released a statement detailing the country's anti-corruption efforts since the beginning of the year. The document says South Sudan has already recovered an estimated $60 million in stolen government money.
Information minister Benjamin said that Kenya, South Sudan's southern neighbour, is playing an active role in fight against corruption. South Sudan has opened a bank account in Kenya where anyone who has taken government funds could return them.
However, the period of leniency is set to be temporary.
"If anybody again is found taking government funds in an inappropriate manner, there will be laws in place that will definitely punish such individuals," Benjamin added.
Earlier this year President Kiir issued a decree ordering all public officials to declare their assets to the South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission. So far, 5000 former and current officials have complied.
South Sudan lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue when it shut down its oil industry earlier this year in a dispute with Sudan.
Author: Mark Caldwell (ap, afp)
Editor: Asumpta Lattus