Cash-strapped South Sudan has canceled payment of medical bills for its officials in other countries, including Uganda.
An order issued by the minister for finance and planning, Stephen Dhieu Dau, said the government in Juba intends to channel the money to more priority areas.
“The ministry of finance and planning is working closely with relevant sectors and institutions to revitalize the South Sudanese economy, a move that requires taking urgent measures and steps that promote fiscal discipline, transparent revenue collection and management, reduced budget expenditure control and discipline, and channeling public resources in more critical government and public priorities…” Dhieu wrote in his letter addressed to accounting officers.
Almost all South Sudan public officials and their families are treated outside the country even for minor illness such as malaria. Millions of dollars, sometimes more than what is allocated to the ministry of health, are spent every year on foreign medical treatment for government officials.
Many of these individuals are treated in neighbouring countries of Uganda, Kenya, Sudan or Egypt, while others are attended to far afield in South Africa, United States or Europe. In the letter, the minister also cancelled all claims for payment regarding treatment that has already been undertaken.
“All requests for payment and claims from all public institutions meant for treatment of public officials outside the country are hereby cancelled by this order…” the minister wrote.
The minister said his ministry and that of health will work closely to revamp hospitals across the country to fill the gap created by the cap on foreign medical treatments.
“The ministry of finance and planning will work closely with the ministry of health and international partners…to improve and upgrade the working conditions of the major hospitals in key towns with the view to providing access to improved health services for the entire public and public officials to close the gaps that might have been created by reduced referrals abroad,” Dhieu said.
The minister added that he is working closely with other institutions to see to it that in future, payment for such treatment is channeled through South Sudanese embassies abroad, which would in turn pass on the money to the respective hospitals.
In the past, unscrupulous officials would requisition for thousands of US dollars ostensibly for medical treatment abroad, only to sell off the dollars on the black market at astronomical profits.
South Sudan descended into conflict in 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his erstwhile vice president, Riek Machar, of orchestrating a coup against him. Since then the country has continued to descend into more economic and political chaos.
The South Sudanese pound in the last three years has depreciated by over 700 per cent, causing unprecedented inflation. The conflict also reduced oil production in the country by at least 50 per cent yet the economy depends on it by over 93 per cent. This has taken a toll on the delivery of basic services, which was already wanting even before chaos erupted in 2013.
South Sudan has some of the world’s worst health indicators. At least 60 women die every day due to pregnancy-related complications, while teenage girls are three times more likely to die while giving birth than finish school.