- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NAIROBI, KENYA | Somali politicians are returning from Arab nations with briefcases of cash, and a Somali government watchdog report obtained by the Associated Press found that more than $70 million of it is missing instead of being used to fight terrorism, piracy or hunger.

The large cash payments encourage politicians to hang onto power while paying little attention to crucial needs in a country devastated by two decades of war. A lack of attention to constituents’ needs may also be fueling an al Qaeda-linked insurgency, officials say.

“Politicians want to keep the status quo. They’re profiting from it,” said Abdirazak Fartaag, the head of the Public Finance Management Unit, a Somali government body charged with overseeing the country’s financial management. “We have to hold these big shots accountable.”

Somalia’s prime minister told AP the government is trying to be more transparent by working from a budget and making records public.

In a 22-page reportreleased Wednesday and obtained exclusively by AP, Mr. Fartaag documented cash payments that came from Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and other donors in 2009 and 2010 totaling more than $75 million.

Only $2.8 million was accounted for by the government. He based his report, which was written for the Somali government, on interviews with politicians who witnessed the payments or received money in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.

Mr. Fartaag said in his report that the Somali government is missing more than $300 million once internal revenues from the port, airport, khat trade and telecommunications are added to the Arab millions that have vanished.

A separate AP investigation established that cash payments from Arab nations continue amid a lack of transparency over how much money politicians accept and what happens with it.

Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed told AP in an interview in Mogadishu in April that his government received one payment of $5 million from a Middle Eastern country this year that he “believed” to be the United Arab Emirates.

But Finance Minister Hussein Halane told AP in April that he accompanied the prime minister twice to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, this year and had seen Mr. Mohamed personally receive $5 million in cash each time.

After more than 50 phone calls and e-mails from AP over six weeks, the government produced documentation showing that only one payment of $5 million was deposited into the country’s Central Bank. The other payment remains unaccounted for.

Politicians in position to receive such payments have little incentive to reach out to armed groups to end conflict because then they’d have to share the money, Mr. Fartaag said in an interview in Nairobi on Tuesday.

The weak U.N.-backed Somali government is fighting the al-Shabab Islamist insurgency that has control of much of central and southern Somalia. Al-Shabab kidnaps children to use as soldiers, carries out public stonings and amputations and claimed responsibility for bombings that killed 76 people in Uganda in July.

The government is constantly appealing for more cash to fight the insurgents, even as it fails to account for money already received.

Both Western and Arab nations pour aid into Somalia to try to combat piracy and terrorism and provide social services. The government gets very little cash directly from the West.

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