Newly-appointed South Sudan finance minister Athian Diing Athian taking oath of office before President Salva Kiir Mayardit in Juba last week. [Photo by Presidency]
JUBA – South Sudan’s new finance minister is determined to check runaway inflation as the first step in turning around a country shattered by conflict since it seceded from Sudan in 2011 and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.
Production of crude — the landlocked nation’s main export — has dropped to 170,000 barrels a day, less than half the output just before war broke out in 2013. Attempts to revive output have been stymied by low international prices, while lock downs to control the virus have delayed the movement of equipment and materials.
“Rampant inflation is detrimental to our overall goal and must be curbed as soon as a matter of urgency,” Athian Diing Athian said in an interview from the capital, Juba. “To accomplish this, we must immediately maximize revenue to ensure the efficient and prudent allocation and accountability of public resources.”
Oil is the country’s biggest source of income and the lower prices have battered its reserves and revenue, fueling inflation that reached 37.2% in April, according to the last data released by the central bank. The South Sudanese pound has plunged to 447 per dollar on the parallel market, compared with the official rate of 167 to the greenback.
“I will be working closely with all financial institutions of the government as well as our international partners, to position ourselves to navigate this crisis,” Athian said. “Once we have streamlined revenue flows, we will ensure that government obligations are met.”
Service delivery is paramount for success, Athian said. “One thing the pandemic has taught us is that it is imperative we build the capacity of our basic services,” he said. “The threat of Covid-19 is still real and we must focus on improving access to health-care across the country.”
South Sudan had 2,649 cases of the virus as of Tuesday, with 1,290 recoveries and 49 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.