Sudan swears in austerity cabinet amid protests

AFP , Monday 9 Jul 2012

Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir swore in six ministers to join the government amid recently-imposed austerity measures that sparked unprecdented public protests

Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir. (Photo: Reuters)

Sudan on Monday swore in ministers to a slimmed-down cabinet under austerity measures which an analyst dismissed as symbolic in the face of unprecedented public protests over high prices.

The government has cut five of 31 ministerial posts, largely by combining certain positions, official media reported.

Among the changes, the ministry of information has merged with culture, electricity and water resources have been combined, as have human resources and labour, the official SUNA news agency said.

The ministry of international cooperation has been scrapped, it added.

President Omar al-Bashir swore in six ministers to handle the restructured portfolios.

SUNA did not say how much money the move will save but it is "not really that significant" in terms of total government spending, said Safwat Fanous, a political scientist at the University of Khartoum.

Analysts say defence and security take up a major portion of Sudanese government expenses. Those ministries were not named as part of the restructuring.

But Fanous told AFP the government is trying to send a message that "the suffering reaches everybody".

Bashir last month fired all of his advisers in another cost-saving move, and Fanous said the salaries and fringe benefits of ministers and members of parliament have also been cut.

But even after a reduction of around 30 percent, a minister will still earn an estimated 7,000 Sudanese pounds a month ($1,590), double a professor's salary, Fanous said.

A minister's reduced income is more than 20 times the official wage of a policeman.

Under measures which the government claims will save $1.5 billion, Finance Minister Ali Mahmud al-Rasul also announced in June a phasing out of fuel subsidies, a rise in the VAT and other taxes, and a devaluation of the Sudanese pound.

Reducing fuel subsidies led to an immediate jump of about 50 percent in the pump price of petrol, fuelling inflation which has increased every month and reached 30.4 percent in May.

Protests against already-high food prices began on June 16 at the University of Khartoum and spread to include a cross-section of people around the capital and in other parts of Sudan after Bashir announced the austerity measures.

Protests calling for an end to his regime have continued for three weeks in the longest-running public challenge to Bashir's 23-year rule.

Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence on July 9 last year, taking with it about 75 percent of Sudanese crude production.

Failure to agree with South Sudan over fees for use of the north's oil export infrastructure cost the Sudanese economy a further $2.4 billion, the finance minister said in May.

The north has been left struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.

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