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U.N. voices growing fears for Somalia

A Somali government soldier reads the Koran during Friday prayers at the Coalition Mosque in capital Mogadishu July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations voiced fears Sunday about a new media law in Somalia only days after UN experts sounded the alarm over corruption in the African country's new government.

The U.N. Human Rights Office has urged President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's government to review a new law that would require journalists to reveal sources and prevent them spreading information against Islam or Somali traditions, said a statement released Sunday.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the legislation was "vague" and "could easily be used to curtail freedom of expression." The draft legislation, which could become law within two months, requires journalists to reveal their sources if published information stirs up public sentiment. It would suspend journalists accused of violating the media legislation.

The president took power with U.N. and widespread international backing in September, heading a government that took over from eight years of corruption-riddled transitional rule.

It has only a limited rule as the government and an African Union force battles Shebab Islamists. But the new administration was considered a beacon of hope as Somalia has had no effective government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1990.

A group of U.N. sanctions experts said in a report released last week that "irregularities" remain rife with the central bank acting as a "slush fund" to hand out the government's meagre resources to individuals who do not have to justify use of the cash.

"During the period of the current government, between September 2012 and April 2013, 72% of withdrawals were made for private individuals," said the report.

Because of the country's strife and the limited scope of the government the 2013 budget was estimated at only $84 million, but nearly a third of that comes from international donors.

The U.N. report said Finance Minister Mohamud Hassan Suleiman "has made every good faith effort to reduce the scale" of the payments but they are "so pervasive as to be beyond his control without a fundamental restructuring of the system."

The report said Central Bank of Somalia governor Abdusalam Omer, who has a US passport, was "key to these irregularities."

The U.N. experts said production of the Somali passport "continues to be fraught with fraud and corruption" and that fees from Mogadishu port, a key source for the government, were being diverted.

It said a monthly average of "at least" 33 percent of the port fees cannot be accounted for.

The experts also said that large amounts of humanitarian aid was diverted but that aid groups, including U.N. agencies, had developed "a culture of denial and secrecy" so the extent of the problem is not being made public.

 

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