War-torn Sudan is an oil-rich nation. But Sudan's Ministry of Energy and Mining has long been characterized by secrecy. Information regarding oil production, oil contracts, and oil revenue has never been made public.
With the signing of a peace agreement, the focus on Sudan's oil has grown, and some Sudanese worry that corruption will flourish in the nation's burgeoning industry.
A January peace agreement ended 21 years of civil war in Sudan. A struggle for control of the nation's oil was one reason for the two-decade war. Southern Sudan's untapped oil reserves have lately drawn wealthy foreign investors to the region. Oil revenue has the potential to rebuild the war-torn south and make Sudan a powerful player in the international community.
Although the former warring parties, the ruling National Congress Party and former southern rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement have agreed to divide the south's oil revenue equally, no decision has been made on what will be done with oil revenue. And a lack of information on oil sales has led to suspicion among many Sudanese.
Analysts in Khartoum say the Sudanese government has never revealed figures on oil revenue. Dr. Abendego Akok of the Juba University Center for Peace and Justice Studies says Sudanese simply have no information on Sudan's oil or Sudan's oil money.
"Many of us are not aware of the structures of the oil ministry. If you deceive yourself that you know it is a big lie. The ministry, if you see the structure of it, is very difficult for an outsider to understand," Akok said.
The formation of the new Sudanese government was delayed for one month by a struggle between the National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement for control of the Ministry of Energy and Mining. When the National Congress Party was awarded the ministry in mid-September, many southern Sudanese claimed they had been cheated.
Because figures on Sudanese oil have always been hidden, it is impossible to tell if there has been any corruption in the past. But the secrecy has led to suspicion. The peace agreement is without a method of preventing corrupt activity within the oil sector.
A bipartisan commission will work closely with the Ministry of Energy and Mining and will, for the first time, make information on oil revenue available to the public.
But the commission is not charged with preventing graft and members of the new government admit that there is no way of preventing corruption.
Presidential Advisor Bona Malwal says there are no measures in place to monitor the oil.
"The Petroleum Commission is not really to prevent graft. There is nothing in the commission to say the central government of Sudan when it takes its share of the oil, will be honest and fair or the SPLA when it takes its share will be honest and fair,” Malwal said. “Fifty-percent of the oil can disappear into private pockets here and there. It would be a disaster if 50-percent of the oil revenue, no matter what it is, does not go to the public cause in south Sudan."
Furthermore, there has been no agreement on how much of the revenue will be pumped into rebuilding the war-torn south.
All of this has led to a sense of outrage among many southern Sudanese. Farouk Kam is a politician from the oil-producing state of Bentiu. He says he was never given a job in Bentiu's oil fields, despite his training as a geological engineer because he is a southern Sudanese. He worries that corrupt activity will flourish under the new agreement.
"We in the south do not trust the north and vice versa; the north does not trust us. Especially dealing with a matter like oil,” Farouk said. “The mistrust will always be there. If they tell me, 'about 500 barrels a day,’ I will not believe it. I would even go further to say this is not 500. I would always multiply by 200. They tell you one and in fact they are talking of thousands. War has not stopped. For we southerners war has not stopped until this question of oil is looked into properly."
The government of Sudan sets oil production at 325-thousand barrels per day, but many, like Mr. Farouk, are not convinced that number is accurate.
Sudan's oil revenue has the potential to rebuild a nation shattered by two decades of civil war. But if Sudanese continue to wrangle for control of the oil, Sudan may find itself embroiled in conflict once again.