Juba — South Sudan may have received slightly more than 10 billion dollars in oil revenue from 2005 to January 2012, when oil production shut down, according to both government officials and the World Bank.
But development experts have urged the government to begin investing in the country and its people, as basic social services remain scarce.
South Sudan shut down its production of oil after a dispute with neighbouring Sudan over transit fees earlier this year. But production is expected to resume in the next few months, after an agreement between the two countries was reached in September.
However, Dr. Leben Nelson Moro of Juba University's Faculty of Peace and Development Studies told IPS that the government needed to start setting part of the oil revenues aside to build much-needed infrastructure to kick start this east-central African nation's development.
"The oil money must be used in a manner that will be beneficial to the whole country and not the few people who are close to the treasury," he says
While the government helps fund primary and secondary school education and health services at hospitals in some state capitals, its contribution to these services is minimal.
In some hospitals, workers' salaries and medicines are paid for by NGOs, and sometimes the not-for-profit organisations are the sole providers of school textbooks and other stationary supplies in schools here.
"The government needs to adopt new ways of managing the oil revenues so that money goes to development projects that benefit the whole country," Moro stressed.
"We know that while many parts of the country are food insecure, there are places like Yei (Yei County in Central Equatoria State) and Western Equatoria state that produce plenty of food. You need to build roads to where the food is produced," he said.
South Sudan has only 110 kilometres of tarmac roads in the capital, Juba, with only one tarmac road linking the city to the Ugandan border. In addition, many areas here are only accessible by air.
Moro said that the government also needed to prioritise education and also provide basic services like healthcare.
"We have many young people who need skills. The government should ensure young people receive skills training to enable them to get jobs.
"In order for our people to work hard and develop the country, they must first be in good health. But for them to be healthy there must be good healthcare services in the country," said Moro.
The majority of South Sudan's nearly nine million people have no access to any form of healthcare.
According to the Ministry of Health, South Sudan currently has 120 medical doctors, slightly over 100 registered nurses and less than 150 qualified midwives.
In some rural areas patients have to walk for two or more days to reach the nearest healthcare centre.
South Sudan has some of the worst health indicators globally. According to the United Nations Population Fund, this country's maternal mortality rate is the worst in the world with 2,054 deaths for every 100,000 live births, largely because about 90 percent of women give birth away from formal medical facilities. Hospitals here lack drugs, equipment and trained workers. In addition, they are overcrowded.
Kenyi Spencer, an environmental economist and World Bank consultant on private sector development, told IPS that given that oil is a non-renewable resource, the money earned from it should be used to develop other sectors, like agricultural production.
"Agriculture will be the real driver of South Sudan's economy in future, but the government has to take measures to develop it," Spencer said.
He urged the government to prioritise education, arguing that the country's high illiteracy rate was hindering development efforts. In 2011 the government announced that South Sudan's illiteracy rate was 73 percent.
This country became Africa's newest nation in July 2011. But decades of war with Sudan have meant that only a handful of the population were able to attend school.
"What is needed here is really a technical, rather than a theoretical, education. For this country to develop it needs plumbers, electricians, mechanics, carpenters and so forth. That is where the money should be invested," Spencer said.
High among expectations is that as oil begins to flow again, the government will end the current austerity measures introduced in February. The measures, which included a cut in civil servants' salaries, were implemented soon after the shut-down in oil production, which accounted for 98 percent of the country's total GDP.
Many have not been happy with the forced cutbacks in this landlocked nation. On Sep. 7, in Rumbek Central County in the Lakes state, a group of 30 policemen attacked and shot the county's Police Inspector Lieutenant Colonel Mangar Kajeny Kamich in the arm. They were reportedly unhappy about pay cuts.
The previous day, wildlife officers in the same state beat up their immediate superior after a reduction in their pay was announced, according to a report by the local Sudan Tribune newspaper.
Moro said that the government needed to increase civil servants' salaries once the country began producing oil.
"Many civil servants were affected by these measures. In the universities, some of the staff lost almost 75 percent of their income. Once oil begins to flow, it is inevitable that the government will have to do something about salaries," he said.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir promised in November that once oil production began, resources would be devoted to service delivery.
"Our physical and food security are top on the list of priority services we want to provide to our people. We will use the oil money to improve agriculture by providing farmers with seeds, tools and improved access to markets," he said.