South Sudan struggles with graft, rights abuses

Faces a host of daunting challenges

JUBA - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir on Monday told lawmakers at the opening session of parliament that corruption in the world's newest nation must be curbed if the country is to succeed.
"The people of South Sudan will not sit idly and allow corruption and abuses of public resources to continue unabated," he said, adding that for the state to succeed, "we need to abide with the principles of accountability."
"We must focus on delivery of basic services to meet the great expectation of our people," Kiir told the gathering of MPs, ministers, diplomats and religious leaders.
"This is only possible if we have a government whose first and last priorities are public interest."
Kiir said he would ensure that, within its first 100 days, the new government passes "five essential laws to establish full transparency and accountability in the management of our financial resources, natural resources and oil."
Parliamentary speaker James Wani Igga said the anti-corruption commission, which was established in 2006, but had no powers to prosecute until this year, would now play a key role in tackling graft.
"The anti-corruption commission has been toothless and henceforth it will be kicking and biting. From now onwards, it possesses prosecution powers. It only needs to quickly equip itself with the required and qualified personnel," he said.
South Sudan, which gained formal independence from the north on July 9, is one of the poorest countries on earth. It was left in ruins after five decades of conflict between southern rebels and successive governments in the north.
The fledgling nation faces a host of daunting challenges, including the rampant corruption Kiir has repeatedly vowed to confront.
Other key objectives, Kiir said, were providing education, which "only a minority of our children in South Sudan have access to," and turning the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) into a national army, with former soldiers being provided with new opportunities.
Literacy rates in the fledgling nation are appalling: the education ministry says 73 percent of the population cannot read or write, and a much higher proportion of women are unable to do so.
Separately, there are serious concerns about human rights abuses committed by the SPLA as it struggles to transform itself from a rebel to a regular force.
Igga, the parliamentary speaker, stressed the need to boost security, especially by disarming former soldiers and removing weapons.
"We must therefore disarm, disarm and disarm, until a woman can work in her farm without fear of rape at gunpoint, and until a trader can open his shop even up to midnight without fear of robbery at gunpoint," he said.
Meanwhile, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon asked Japan on Tuesday to consider sending military engineers to South Sudan to help with nation building efforts as part of a UN mission.
Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa was reluctant to offer immediate help, saying Tokyo was still relying on its soldiers to help clear and rebuild the region devastated by the March 11 quake and tsunami.
But he agreed that Japan, which deployed members of the military for work in quake-hit Haiti, could consider sending Self Defense Forces command centre personnel to South Sudan, which gained independence last month.
Ban later told local media the UN still hoped Japan would consider sending engineers to the African country to build badly needed infrastructure.
He earlier made the same request to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
The UN chief is in Japan for a three-day tour and Monday visited areas near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant hit by the March disasters.