“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.
The European Union, the United States and the World Bank has provided more than $100m for the COVID-19 response, while the International Monetary Fund has given some $200m in loans.
“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.
A black market appeared for COVID-19 tests that were supposed to be free. Tests were offered for $50, while test certificates needed for ground and air travel were sold for $400.
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. Opaque bureaucratic and regulatory snags had also resulted in “diverted resources that would have otherwise been used for lifesaving supplies”, the report noted.
The health ministry also handpicked at least 500 largely untrained staff from the ministry to work on the response and be paid between $450 and $1,500 a month with donor funds. Although it is not uncommon to hire untrained workers in emergency responses many of the proposed salaries were triple what skilled civil servants would normally earn, and the government has failed in recent years to pay health workers for months.