S. Sudan MPs block annual budget to demand overdue pay

Thursday June 20, 2019

BY AFP


The South Sudan parliament on Wednesday withheld approval of the government's next budget in protest that troops and some civil servants in the oil-rich country have gone unpaid for months.


The government is proposing a 2019/2020 budget of 208 billion South Sudanese pounds (1.17 billion euros/$1.3 billion), anticipating a deficit of 77 billion pounds. Most of the funds are intended for infrastructure development, to be financed by oil revenue.


The parliamentary session to examine the budget was suspended by Speaker Lino Makana following vigorous protests by lawmakers, who demanded that state employees be paid before they would consider the finance bill.


"Our army is now cutting down the trees to make charcoal for their children to survive, our foreign missions we are not able to pay for almost one year, our teachers are not teaching our children and have preferred to work with organisations (rather) than the government," MP Elizabeth Adut complained during the session.


Another MP, Duruang Burteny, told AFP that parliament would "never be ready and cannot be ready to actually accept the minister of finance to present this budget to the house when six-month salary is not paid to the civil servants and six-month salary has not been paid to the army."


The previous budget for 2018/2019 was a more modest 126 billion Sudanese pounds against a bloody backdrop of civil war in Africa's youngest nation, fuelled by deadly ethnic tensions that also cut into oil production.


Fighting broke out in 2013, but the latest ceasefire has held since it was signed last September.


Nevertheless, oil output -- accounting for 98 percent of state income -- has fallen by more than half since independence in 2011, when it reached 350,000 barrels per day.


An MP who asked not to be named hit out at foreign trips by government members with no clear benefit.


"The cabinet is busy on travels every year and we don't see anything tangible out of their travels," she said.


The conflict, marked by atrocities including rape as a weapon of war, has claimed more than 380,000 lives, according to a recent study, while more than four million people have been driven from their homes.