South Sudan: Unity State MPs Pressure Finance Ministry to Pay Civil Servants Full Salaries

Bentiu — The Finance Ministry in South Sudan's Unity State is under pressure from state-level parliamentarians to reverse the decision of the Bentiu government in July to reduce of civil servant's salaries by 25 percent.

As part of austerity measures the Unity State council of ministers, led by deputy governor Michael Chiengjiek Geay, passed the resolution without allowing members of the state's parliament to vote on the decision.

On the weekend of December 22 and 23 MPs summoned the finance minister demanding that he explain the 25 percent salary cut.

The Finance Minister, Thomas Jal Kume, claimed that the central government in Juba government gave Unity State only 40 percent of their total budget for salaries, forcing them to reduce the wages of government employees.

South Sudan has been forced to make severe cuts to its budget after an oil dispute with Sudan, that came to a head in January, has meant that the young nation's lost its main source of revenue. Before the shutdown, oil exports provided 98% of the government's income.

Simon Maguek Gai, the Speaker of Unity State Legislative Assembly, said the 25% reduction was unjustified and accused the finance ministry of misusing public funds.

"The members of the assembly think what is being sent from Juba as [a] block grant should be topped up by the local resources that we have in the state that is the logic of their arguments", he said.

Speaker Gai said the lack of proper channeling of resources by the state Finance Ministry was contributing to the embezzlement of public funds. There was no substantial evidence of the corruption, he said, perhaps as this was being covered up by individuals with the ministry of finance.

The basic demand of parliamentarians on Saturday during a heated debate was that civil servants salaries should be added to by the state in order to return pay of civil servants to their previous levels.

The Finance Minister was shocked after parliamentarians strongly insisting and maintaining it position to stand firm for the reimbursement of civil servants salary.

Several figures from other ministries have sided with the legislature in the dispute including, Bol Badeng Gatbuok, the director of administration at the Ministry of Labour and Public services.

"We at the Ministry of Labour and Public Services do not agree with the Ministry of Finance and Industry" over the 25 percent reduction in wages, he said, adding that it had no basis at state or national level.

"In our position we support what the legislative assemble has been said, people should receive [their] salary in full", said Gatbuok.

Gatbuok also accused the Finance Ministry of corruption. Under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Unity State was supposed to receive 2 percent of all oil revenue produced in the state.

Several sources within the state government, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, say they are not sure whether any of this additional oil revenue has been received since the agreement was signed.

Many citizens in Unity State complain that they have not seen the dividends of peace despite living in South Sudan's most oil-rich state.

Finance Minister Kume has not yet addressed the allegations of corruption leveled against him. He is expected to address the matter when the state assembly sits again on Thursday.

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