South Sudan’s decision to hike permit fees for foreign workers may hamper humanitarian assistance to millions of people displaced by conflict and natural disasters in the country, experts told Xinhua on Saturday.
The world’s youngest republic early this month increased work permit fees for foreign workers from 100 U.S dollars to 10,000 U.S dollars.Experts decried exorbitant work permit fees saying that they bode ill for a country in need of massive humanitarian aid amid escalating conflicts and severe drought.The United Nations in late February declared famine in some parts of the country with some 100,000 people starving in Mayendit and Leer counties of the northern Unity state due to fighting. And another 1 million people are on the brink of starvation with also 5.5 million in dire need of food assistance as conflict rages in what the UN described as man-made catastrophe.
The minister of information Micheal Makuei said the work permit increase was inevitable and wouldn’t be reversed soon as the country needs to widen it’s nascent revenue base in face of hyper inflation nearing 800 percent after the much depended upon oil revenue declined due to conflict.”Here in South Sudan, our fees for work permits were the lowest in the region and we had to conform to what is happening in the region,” Makuei said in the capital Juba.
Oil production reduced from over 350,000 barrels a day (bpd) to less than 130,000 bpd.
However, Guiomar Pau Sole, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesman told Xinhua in an interview in Juba on Saturday that the new policy would divert resources meant to address critical needs.”We are deeply concerned regarding the new circular which, if applied to humanitarian organizations, could mean that generously donated taxpayer money is diverted from the delivery of aid to people in dire need at a particularly critical time,” she said.She added that “We are engaging with all relevant authorities to request an exemption from the order for aid agencies.”
Meanwhile, Jacob Dut Chol, lecturer of politics at Juba University told Xinhua that the work permit increase is both positive and negative as it would help government monitor humanitarian aid trickle down in the country.”It is right if you look at the humanitarian operations and donations that have come in South Sudan. But for this money it is little that trickles down to the humanitarian work. You can argue that about 40 percent trickles down and 60 percent goes back to humanitarian workers,” he said.”That means whatever goes to humanitarian work is peanuts, you see the talk of we need money because millions of South Sudanese are dying, and yet if you go on ground and ask exactly what people have gotten from the money it has gone back to those countries,” he added.He also said the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in horrible conditions In Jonglei, Unity states and yet millions of U.S dollars in humanitarian aid have been provided to aid agencies.”So the government says much of this money goes to humanitarian workers and it’s better to tax,” he disclosed.
James Alic Garang, lecturer of Economics at Upper Nile University, told Xinhua that despite work permit in South Sudan having been the lowest in the region, the increase may discourage international workers and investors.”When you raise the fee this high, one discourages international workers or investors and that might lead to raising less revenue than expected. Second, the country has just declared famine and raising fees this high will feed into the external narrative that the transitional unity government (TGoNU) is not serious about anything, including social welfare of the people,” he revealed.He said the work permit increase may have been motivated by the need to raise revenue to close the budget gap since South Sudan is financially constrained.He added that there are better ways for government to deter foreign workers from entering South Sudan, especially those who take up local jobs.
South Sudan has in the past tried banning foreign workers from taking up blue collar and casual jobs arguing that majority of its citizens were unemployed, but the policy was not enforced as it faced criticism from the region.”Besides, there are other ways of controlling migrant workers. These include intense vetting, denying entry to low-skilled labor or those with criminal records from their country of origins,” he said.Chol also corroborated Garang when he disclosed that the war-torn country would lose even the little humanitarian aid trickling on the ground if the policy was implemented.”On the other side it is wrong because a small thing (aid) is better than nothing. If you tax humanitarian workers (10,000 U.S. dollars), this money will not be paid by individuals but organizations. These organizations may decide to pull out in the country and the small aid that has been coming will be turned off and there will be more deaths,” he said.Chol added that government should try to get the views of international organizations, experts, and the region to make a better policy on work permits.”It needs a critical review to avoid losing organizations that are helping the country because entirely South Sudan is depending on humanitarian organizations,” he said.