$40,000 a Car for Lawmakers Fuels Ire in War-Hit South Sudan

(Bloomberg) -- A civil society group urged South Sudan’s parliament to explain about $18 million in bonuses paid to lawmakers that the government of the war-torn, poverty-stricken country described as loans to buy cars.

Under the plan, 452 members of both houses of parliament are receiving $40,000 each for vehicles, a step presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said was regular and covered by the 2017-18 budget. South Sudan is mired in an almost five-year civil war that’s caused an economic crisis and forced parts of the country to the verge of famine.

The government’s decision “is a disturbing development at the stage where civil servants and members of law enforcement agencies are going two months without salaries,” said Edmund Yakani, executive director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, based in the capital, Juba.

News of the payment comes as warring parties try to end a conflict that began in December 2013 and has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Under a new peace deal, President Salva Kiir and the main rebel leader would reunite in an expanded government and parliament. While the talks were under way, lawmakers voted for Kiir’s term to be extended three years.

Ateny said that lawmakers “should not be seen struggling and risking their lives” moving around, pointing to similar loans he said were given in 2005, before the country’s independence from Sudan. Lawmakers had been coming to work by motorcycle taxi, “so the government thought it wise to give the loan,” he said Thursday by phone. He declined to comment on unpaid salaries.

Yakani said the average South Sudanese worker would take years to earn the kind of sums given. “We are demanding the leadership of the parliament to inform the citizens of what is the real purpose of this cash allocation,” he said by email.

Santino Riak, a teacher in Juba, said lawmakers don’t deserve to be paid such an amount when the government is struggling to deliver services and pay salaries.

“They should first serve us before serving themselves,” he said.

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