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Thursday, January 28, 2021

SORGHUM SAGA PLAGUES FORMER AWEIL STATE

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STAFF WRITER (SPRINGWOOD) Allegations of corruption plague the former Aweil State. Public outcry has deepened over the last few days over the conduct of the Caretaker Governor of the now-defunct Aweil State, Dominic Kang Deng (pictured)

Before President Kiir reinstated the 10 States and disbanded Aweil alongside the other 31 States, then Aweil State Governor, Tong Akeen Ngor, had taken initiatives to subsidize sorghum prices to cover losses made by local farmers and those affected due to torrential rains that flooded and destroyed many farms and shelters across the State, leaving a large number of people vulnerable.

A State Government insider told the Northern Corridor Morning Post that the initiative was noble in the beginning, but as soon as the Governor lost his position, the new Caretaker Governor, Dominic Kang Deng, who was the State Secretary-General under Tong Akeen Ngor, shifted his priorities from providing subsidies to the population to selling the grains to local businessmen for a profit who then resell the merchandise at exorbitant and unaffordable ‘market’ prices.

The subsidized price was set at 6,000SSP for a sack of sorghum, but now, the committee is selling at 7,500SSP. To make matters worse, the Caretaker Governor and his committee have deliberately limited the supply of available sorghum to increase demand, and in the process, create a market imbalance with prices becoming steadily unreasonable.

The current price of 1 Maluou (a metric equivalent of 1.5kg) of sorghum is 600SSP, a 100% increase in price from the recent cost of 300SSP. The businessmen, with the support of the Caretaker Governor and his darkroom committee, have made life unbearable for the people of the State already battered by the floods, and the problem of border close-offs due to COVID-19.

This committee, now selling the grains to business people, was initially tasked with selling it directly to local people. Committee members include Dominic Kang Deng, the Caretaker Governor, Gabriel Ker Deng, former Town Mayor, Tong Deng Tong, former Town Mayor, and Andrew Lual Buol, former State Minister of Finance.

The initial report when the policy was rolled out was that 700,000 sacks of sorghum were paid for by the State revenue authority. Then the second rollout of about the same quantity was to follow, but that was disrupted by the Presidential order disbanding the 32 States.

With border closure becoming an everyday reality and no end in sight for when the COVID-19 threat would subside, the prospects for families affording food are becoming grimmer by the day. If the Caretaker Governor does not take full responsibility for the sale of these grains at the subsidized prices, many will starve in the face of an increasing threat of self-isolation coupled with unaffordable costs.

Price manipulation is not a new event in South Sudan and has been practiced by unscrupulous banking merchants who trade in the black market for higher prices on hard currency. But much of this corrupt and unethical practice is never politically-induced.

It will be the first time a government official deliberately takes action to create a condition that intentionally puts life at risk in such a difficult time.

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