Sudan Transparency Initiative
“The Sudanese people encounter instances of corruption and lack of transparency on a daily basis. The Sudan Democracy First Group launched a project, the Sudan Transparency Initiative, to research, document and disseminate credible information about these illicit practices. The following story is part of this initiative.”
Corruption in the Foreign Employment Agencies
The labor recruitment agencies in Sudan work to provide employment opportunities abroad for Sudanese especially in the rich oil producing countries. Until recently, the number of these agencies did not exceed nine, as the first of them was established in 1992. However, by 2004, their number had substantially increased to approximately 400 offices and reached 630 by 2013 and continues toincrease.
The strong desire to travel abroad has pushed many people to seek the help of these agencies. This high increase in demand led to the emergence of fake agencies or agencies that do not fulfill the requirements of the Ministry of Labor, the government entity that regulates the work of these agencies. Moreover, other travel and tourism agencies have also start to secure a niche in this market, although by law, they are not permitted to conduct this type of work.
The strong competition among the many recruitment agencies, whether registered and licensed or not, has created various types of corrupt practices such as making false promises to provide work opportunity abroad to their desperate clients. Most of these agencies do not keep such promises and when clients start to mount pressure on them to either fulfill their commitments or reimburse their money, a saga of procrastination, lies and deception is invoked by these agencies to cover up these illicit practices, and as a result a number of those victims would resort to police stations and file law suits against these agencies.
Due to the increase in the number of these agencies and the high demand for travel and work abroad, the Ministry of Labor enacted new requirements for the registration of these agencies. The administrative regulation number 19 of the year 2011 stipulates the followings:
The applicant must be a Sudanese national.
The applicant must have an independent office that fulfills the technical specifications and has a suitable work environment that meet the Ministry’s regulations such as the office space, furniture and the number of computers.
The applicant must pay a sum of 50 thousand Sudanese Pounds (SDG), as security deposit.
The manager of the agencies must at least possess a university degree, however only high school diploma is required for staff.
The applicant must be mandated by at least one Embassy of a country that is willing to take Sudanese workers.
However, in spite of these old and new regulations, recruitment agencies continued to commit fraud and illicit dealings with people seeking employment abroad. Nevertheless, many qualified personnel, even those who did not graduate from high school or universities, still rely on these agencies to assist them in finding employment opportunities outside of Sudan in order to improve theirs and their families’ livelihood.
In order to further investigate these corrupt practices, eighteen agencies were surveyed. What draws the attention of ay visitor to these offices, is the unsuitable work environment such as the lack of enough and good furniture, the small space of the office …etc., in a clear violation of the Ministry of Labor requirements. Moreover, these offices are often crowded with people who are seeking job opportunities abroad or just inquiring about these opportunities. To shed a light on the activities of these agencies, we asked the following questions to an owner of one of these agencies:
What is the difference between recruitment and travel agencies?
Answer: The agencies for abroad recruitment and employment, which operate under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor, focus on providing employment opportunities to individuals seeking work abroad. These agencies coordinate the recruitment processes with the employers in the relevant countries after they obtain a mandate from these countries’ Embassies in Sudan. As for travel agencies or offices, they operate under the supervision of the Ministry of Tourism, and their work focuses on making tickets reservations and leisure travel arrangements in addition to other services such as hotel accommodations.
Why there is confusion between the work of the travel and recruitment agencies?
Answer: if any travel agency is able to secure job opportunities and contract abroad through its own means, then there is no difference between the travel and recruitment agencies, except for a few formalities such as the needs to obtain a no objection letter from the Ministry of Labor and some assistance from a recruitment agency which is accredited by one of the Embassies.
What are the reasons behind the high costs of abroad work contracts?
Answer: the reason is greed from the part of the owners of the recruitment and travel agencies. Agencies ask applicants for high fees for contract with high salaries although, the agency owner do not pay extra money to procure these types of contracts. In addition, agents play an important role in the increase of the costs as they purchase these contracts and resell them for twice as much sometimes.
How authorized work visas are manipulated and sold for more than once?
Answer: This is done in many ways, sometimes through cheating. When an agency makes a promise to individuals who are willing to pay part or the full cost of the employment contract and visa and decline to fulfill that promise, they usually procrastinates and delays the process on the grounds that the applications are still pending or to come up with any other cover up story. Once the victims increase the pressure, some of the agencies would close down and their employees would vanish. Moreover, agents use several other ways to cheat; for example, if the recruitment agency has a mandate from an employer to recruit three employees and an approval for visas from the concerned Embassy, the agency’s owner would process the application of one of the approved candidate in a proper way. However, while this candidate is undergoing medical examination and other procedural matters, the agent would make a copy of the same document and sell it to another job seeker who is not preapproved by the employer abroad. Thus, when the applicant who obtain the document for this job opportunity illegally, go to the Embassy to complete the medical exam and get the visa, the Embassy’s employees would not be able to uncover the belligerent act because the original visa approval lists three job opportunities without names. This way, the person with the falsified document is granted a visa; however, this corruption situation shows is only discovered when the person with the falsified visa arrives to the location of work abroad, the employer realized that this person does not carry the same qualifications required and agreed to with recruitment agency in Sudan.
Do the authorities inspect and review work permits of the recruitment and travel agencies?
Answer: I have not seen or heard of any type of regular inspection. However, when the victims of these falsified procedures go to the police and file reports against these corrupted agencies or offices, only then the police interfere and order these agencies shut down if still open and did not voluntarily closed down by owners out of fear of the victims’ reactions.
It is needless to say that this corrupted situation leads to many dangerous and negative effects starting with the devastating psychological impact on the victims. In such cases, many young people, who are depressed and feel that they have failed in changing their lives and improving their lifestyles by working abroad, do not feel well and tend to alienate themselves from society and their families. In addition, it harms households that strive to save money to send their children abroad for work in order to improve the family living condition.
In order to put an end to these practices, the Ministry of Labor needs to review the work and inspect the premises of these recruiting agencies on a regular basis. Moreover, it must issue more regulations and rules to protect the rights of individuals seeking jobs abroad such as instituting provisions that obligate agencies to refund money paid when promises are not fulfilled. There is also a need for establishing a system that determines the fees charged by these agencies for different types of contracts.
Another aspect on how to curb these corrupt instances rests on those individuals who seek opportunities abroad, especially those with college degrees and experience, to check the details and fine prints of these job opportunities, such as the credibility of the agency, the accuracy of the information in the contracts, verification of the visas details, reading the fine prints… etc., before they engage in dealings with these agencies.
Last, it is important for civil society organizations and the media to raise the awareness of individuals as well as families about these corrupt practices and about the proper procedures that need to be followed to obtain an employment contract or a visa. Moreover, lawyers associations and organizations must contribute their time to defend the victims and help bring their pleas before the authorities and the court of justice.