Humorous Sorrows in South Sudan while Austerity Misdirected
In economics, austerity refers to a policy of deficit-cutting by lowering spending often via a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided, but in our case of South Sudan the public services are limited or not even there to be reduced or may be what needs to be checked is personal benefits which is taking most of the public funds in government’s institution in every direction.
Today in Juba the capital city of South Sudan and other towns, funny sorrowful activities are happening and people take them for granted but it is the real alarming situation each and every ordinary citizen is facing due to economic crisis caused by shutdown of oil production which triggered political tension between South Sudan and Sudan. The austerity measures introduced by the government to curb the situation are not yet to be realized by the public.
The public is still yet to see all the benefits of the government’s constitutional post holders checked the number of vehicles in all the ministries and commissions have to be reduced and not purchasing the extremely expensive cars plus any other luxurious benefits like accommodation in hotels, weekend and dressing allowances etc. By doing so, we shall have gathered and save some money to establish agricultural projects and other public utilities to benefit our people.
In all our economic sectors for example in public transport, all the bus stations in Juba, you find people of different ages young, old and middle scrambling for transport violating all the human ethics of respecting the elderly and the young ones who have no power to compete. The actual dramatic scene comes in when the minibus stops to board, since a multitude is waiting, the entry becomes an issue who to enter first. From there, a survival of the fittest manifested itself. The strong ones suppress the weak and find their way in the bus.
Others enter through the tiny windows of the minibus no matter how they are hurt by the edges of the glasses but the main goal is to get transported to your destination. The vulnerable group who cannot make it will resort to use number eleven (footing) to their far destinations. If they used the bodaboda (motorcycle), they will be charged heavily since fuel is scarce.
When you come late to your office for those who are working, the rules also ask you that why are you coming late for work? Since you came late there is a pay cut on your salary or wages and in the schools you receive some good whiplash or any other forms of punishment. Therefore, a common citizen becomes a victim of circumstances which are beyond his or her limit.
What is the cause of all these problems? It is the shutdown of oil production which was bringing hard currency to the country and is used to buy goods and other services abroad through our local traders and funding of government’s projects. Since there is not anymore hard currency flowing, the prices are hiking and scarcity of every item being purchased outside South Sudan becomes expensive or not even there since South Sudan doesn’t produce anything for its local market.
I question myself how do countries without oil wealth manage their governments? Assume that we don’t have oil in South Sudan, how do we have controlled and ran our economy? It is through taxes and other revenues and the implementation of strict austerity measures like cutting voluminous allowances being paid to the government top officials and then the right usage of it where public can get the share.
One of the days, I and a colleague of mine went to a local restaurant where we always take our meals. We had SSP 15 only for two plates. We usually know a plate ranges from SSP 5, 6, 7 or 8 and we comfortably enjoy our food throwing jokes here and there not knowing what will happen after eating. When we finished, washed our hands and I came to pay, I pulled SSP 15 out of my pocket, gave it to the busy accountant of the restaurant and to be returned a change of SSP 3 for water thinking that what we ate is SSP 6 each.
Unfortunately, the gentleman asked me in his Juba Arabic ‘’Itakum gi akul shunu’’? I replied him in my ramshackle Juba Arabic ‘’nina gi akulu bamia u kudura ma kisira kulu’’. Then we resort to English again. The accountant told me that each plate is SSP 10. That was what we all had in our pockets with my brother who was with me. I tried to ask few questions as to why the prices are increased beyond fifty percent in a very short period but the reply was that there is no dollar in the banks and black market.
Do you also import ‘’kudura,’’ ‘’bamia’’ and cattle? I enquired. The accountant grew annoyed and sent me to the manager. Since I did not want to attract the attention of the restaurant’s population, I told him it is ok. I went out and made phone call to a certain brother to come with SSP 5 to rescue us from economics embarrassment. I had to speak in my mother tongue so that nobody could understand what I was communicating to my brother. Fortunately, the guy was near and he appears in less than five minutes. We paid the balance and took off narrating the history to the new brother.
All the prices in local restaurants are very high and no any other place where one can eat with SSP 5 and below. It starts with SSP 8 and above. My encounter seems to be funny but I have to accept the fact that things are not good and going on the right way. It is a strong signal to all South Sudanese that we should reverse the situation in any way possible.
Coming to fuel shortage, there is a funny long queue about a kilometer or more for fuel which comprises of motorbikes, vehicles of all types in the few fuel stations in Juba which managed to secure fuel. Others can stay online or queue, from morning to evening without food because when you leave your car or motorbike and go for food, the rest behind you cannot move or you will be bypassed.
One day, I passed by one of the fuel stations walking, the queue was too long. One gentleman was deeply asleep and he was almost near to the depot to be served. Those behind him were hooting because the frontline has gone far almost finishing. The sleeping gentleman could not hear the hooting. I was walking towards his V8 and common sense told me that I rescue this gentleman. I woke him up and he immediately starts his car and pushes ahead. He called me and said thank you and added that he came at 5am to the fuel station and now it is 4:45pm almost 12 hours on the queue. I sympathized with my fellow brother and the rest in front of him who came earlier than that.
The governments of South Sudan today face immense challenges. The post-independence talks with Khartoum are always not fruitful instead they bring disaster. The economy of South Sudan on the other hand is on the verge of collapsing, a fact which is mostly disputed by our leaders as jagged out by the World Bank report.
The other shortfalls, like rising unemployment because of corruption and escalating needs for public university students and other long term concerns about education, health, infrastructure need to be addressed. You can name them better than I do. It is a government surrounded by enormous tasks all over.
What is the way forward? Let all South Sudanese remove self-interest and cultivate the spirit of nationhood so that whatever belongs to the nation cannot be diverted for personal benefits. The six years of interim period taught us a big lesson in that billions of dollars have gone missing to individuals' pockets and if we could have used that money for national purpose; our economy could not be limping now.
Our army could have been equipped with modern military hardware like anti-aircraft missiles which were mostly needed during the fight in Panthou.
Let the useless allowances in our institutions be removed so that it can benefit the majority not a few who are also having fat salaries. Let the youth be given chances to exercise their talents instead of them becoming critics of their own government. The president’s speech on the occasion of our independence was good and well-articulated on the side of downsizing the government and putting on hold the creation of new counties.
I am not contradicting myself because I talked of widespread unemployment and downsizing in the above paragraphs. The President puts it clear that the size of our payroll is too large. It is true. In one Ministry alone as we can attest, we have four big and senior personnel that is the minister, deputy minister, undersecretary (sometimes two in one ministry) and the director generals. The same thing applies to the commissions; we have chairperson, the deputy and directors.
These people have fat salaries, allowances and services in their offices and then if we do simple arithmetic by multiplying the number of senior staff by what they get in terms of cash, than our government falls short of money for development. Those are only senior officials, leave alone the junior ones they are also a lot.
How many ministries and commissions do we have? It is quite a number. The supporting staff on the other hand who are supposed to be active and do the work lack skills? I bet and believe that what they have in their files is appointment letters, a copy of their former National Identification (Sudan) period, because majorities are rigged in by their relatives leaving the skillful group out. They only take tea, those with computers are playing games in the offices and the ladies are stitching their bed sheets plus any other irrelevant tasks. No any job descriptions for everyone and individual’s office plan.
Well, it was a creation of jobs for everyone who have been in the bush but if the country only pays the government civil servants and lacks funds to provide social amenities to majority, than a large group will end in a slum which is not the aim of any government in the world.
By Mabor W. Malou, JUBA – SSN, 25/07/2012