Aid groups say Sudan took millions during expulsions

Aid groups accuse Sudan for having taken millions of dollars from them in seized assets and enforced redundancy payments after expelling them in retaliation for a war crimes case against the president.
The Sudanese humanitarian affairs ministry said it had acted within regulations.

Sudan ousted 13 foreign aid groups and closed three local organisations in March, after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of masterminding atrocities in Darfur.

Khartoum authorities accused the groups of passing information to the court, a charge the organisations deny.

Three of the expelled groups told Reuters Sudanese authorities had taken about $5.2 million of their assets including computers, vehicles, stock and equipment and more than $9 million in payments to local staff who lost their jobs because of the government shut-down.

Other expelled groups either declined to comment or said they hoped their assets would go to affiliated organisations that had since been allowed to set up or expand in Sudan.

Sudan’s ministry of humanitarian affairs told Reuters officials had taken the assets of the ousted groups in March but said they had acted within regulations.

State minister for humanitarian affairs Abdel Baqi al-Jailani said officials were holding the goods “in reserve” for new aid groups when they came in to replace ousted groups.
“The NGOs (non-governmental organisations) signed an agreement that if they are expelled, their assets will be used by others,” he said. “The assets are being held in reserve for the coming NGOs. They will be used by them.”

The minister added the redundancy payments had also been made in line with regulations. “If they have any grievances, they can contact me and we are ready to negotiate.”

Aid groups said the expulsions hit humanitarian efforts across Northern Sudan, particularly in Darfur and the tense border regions of Southern Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile. Projects in Sudan’s mostly Christian south were not affected.

The French arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said the expulsion cost it around €2 million.
“€700,000 ($1 million) of that was linked to a labour decree which we view as invalid, that we were forced into following,” said Jane Coyne, MSF-France’s former head of mission in Sudan.

Aid groups said they had been ordered to pay six months salary to former staff in compensation for the “aggressive termination” of their contracts, for some aid groups on top of contractual redundancy payments.

Aid officials said the government either froze their bank accounts, or ordered aid groups to hand redundancy payments to the government which then distributed it among workers.
“For me the six months, it is an abnormality. It was a penalty that was imposed on us,” said Coyne.

She said another €791,800 went on normal redundancy payments, with the rest the cost of seized vehicles, laptops, cars, communications gear, and equipment.
“Of course, MSF views those assets as ours — ours to use to provide services to the population. The government had no right to seize those assets.”

One worker from an ousted group, speaking on condition of anonymity, said all aid groups in Sudan had signed an agreement that their assets could be used by others if they were expelled.
“If we had been expelled for doing something wrong that would be one thing. But we did not do anything wrong and they didn’t follow any of their own rules when they expelled us.”

The worker added they had no proof their goods had ended up in other humanitarian hands.

MSF Holland spokeswoman Naomi Pardington said the group had to pay out €850 000 to staff in line with the MSF’s own regulations, and another €650 000 enforced by the government, while it lost more than €790 000 of assets.

Oxfam GB spokesperson Alun McDonald said Sudan took around £5 million ($8.5 million) more than £2 million in assets and nearly £3 million in redundancies and shut down costs.

Pic: Camp in Darfur