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New report exposes spying, violations in Sudan’s telecoms sector

November 26 - 2017 KHARTOUM
A mobile phone shop in Khartoum (File photo)
A mobile phone shop in Khartoum (File photo)

The Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) has released its latest report Out of Coverage: Politics, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in the Telecommunication Sector in Sudan. The report highlights and investigates various types of corruption within Sudan’s telecommunications sector, by analysing its root causes and explaining the corrupt practices associated with it, since the June 1989 coup which swept the current regime to power.

This report compiled by Ammar Hamoda is the latest in SDFG’s series of publications on corruption and lack of transparency. SDFG launched its ambitious Sudan Transparency Initiative (STI) in March 2015, as an initiative dedicated to the study and documentation of corrupt practices and lack of transparency in Sudan, with the objective of raising awareness and mobilising citizens to demand accountability.

It clarifies the extent and depth of the telecommunication sector’s interaction and impact on other sectors, such as the financial sector, the security apparatus and political sphere. In addition, the report investigates mismanagement and wastage of public property, uncovers spying on citizens and other violations committed or condoned by the regime. Furthermore this report aims to enlighten any possible investors who wish to invest in the Sudan’s telecommunication sector about the real stakeholders and alert them of the consequences of their investments in the event of political change.

The report used a number of research methodologies including reviewing and analysing secondary data and interviews with previous telecommunication sector employees. The author also relied on the knowledge of numerous experts by communicating with them via telephone calls, social media and emails. These sources were consulted about their roles, what they came to know about the industry and whether or not it was covered in the media. The researcher thoroughly searched specialized websites, reliable media platforms and dealt cautiously with information published on social media and non-specialized websites. Despite the abundance of what is written about corruption in the telecommunications sector, much of it is very general and not properly documented. There is a scarcity of published professional information, and as a result, this research sought to include well-referenced information. Most of the report’s statements are derived from official websites, published financial statements, interviews or press releases. Where there was a lack of official statistics or reports about some issues, the report used a proxy scientific approach based on officially published figures to come up with credible statistical estimates about the size of embezzled funds and pervasiveness of corruption in the telecommunications sector. Where this is the case, explanations of the approach used are included.

The major findings of the report included:

•             Political interventions have been affecting all decisions in the telecommunications sector. Interventions by security agencies and national telecommunication authorities are designed to appear as legal and regulatory action, but the fact that changes occur whenever the politics change indicates that other interests are taking precedence.

•             Companies that were not previously connected to the political system were quick to discover the importance of political connections. Hence, most managed to include politically influential figures, e.g., people close to the Sudanese president or members of his family, as members of their boards of directors and or executives. In this way, they link their interests with the interests of those who are closer to political decision makers.

•             The US sanctions obviously affected the telecommunications sector by increasing the cost of obtaining American hardware and software. Although sanctions increased cost, they did not generally eliminate access, as material could be obtained either by the parent company or a third party taking the risk but of course adding additional profit proportionate to the risk of possible financial liability or prosecution.

•             The voice of employees of the sector has been silenced. Their right to freedom of association and to form unions has been suppressed, which has encouraged a great deal of encroachment on the rights of workers, pushing those who work in the public sector to accept private contracts on less favourable terms.

•             Corrupt networks are interconnected and able to mobilize quickly against any attempts to fight corruption.

•             The cover up of corruption is, in most cases, purposeful and intentional. There are conflicts of interest in the systems that should address corruption, suggesting that there are many cases of corruption that remain undisclosed.

•             The financial flows in the telecommunications sector is take place mostly in the form of liquid funds (cash) and being paid in advance due to the nature of the revenue from the sale of telecom services.

See the entire report here (PDF)

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