September 19, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir and his Finance minister Ali Mahmoud Abdel-Rasool made statements today that sparked outrage in the social media amid heightened tensions over the government’s anticipated move to lift fuel subsidies.
- Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir (L) leaves Khartoum airport after attending a welcome ceremony with his South Sudanese counterpart on September 3, 2013 (ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)
The two men boasted that the Sudanese people were introduced to “Pizza”, “Hot dog”, and “Luxury housing” only after the 1989 coup which brought Bashir to power.
Bashir, who was addressing a crowd of the students affiliated with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) on Thursday, said that he "challenges any Sudanese citizen who knew the Hot dog before the Ingaz (Salvation) regime," asserting that his government will not back down from its decision to remove fuel subsidies.
The Sudanese president said that subsidies money should and would be directed to support poor families, retirees and students.
He acknowledged that wages are low and unrewarding, disclosing that the police for example lost 60% of its personnel due to that.
Bashir also reiterated the government’s justification for removing fuel subsidies saying that it only benefits the rich people while the low-income class continues to suffer.
“They [rich people] are riding the latest cars models and enjoying their air conditioning. They spend their vacations in Europe where they keep their money”, he said
The country’s top man pointed to the need for a fair distribution of resources, saying that the government pays a on pound subsidy for every gallon of gasoline.
He claimed that even the foreign diplomatic mission and the United Nations agencies benefit from the fuel subsidies and also mentioned gasoline smuggling to the neighboring countries.
Therefore the only way to avoid smuggling, he said is to remove subsidies adding that the government buys the oil barrel at a price of $110 and sells it for $40 only.
He emphasized that the loss of oil revenue after South Sudan’s secession represented the biggest challenge to the economy, saying that Sudan’s economy is not an exception from the rest of the world’s economies which go through difficult times following growth and prosperity.
The Finance minister, for his part, said that the Sudanese people rejected the austerity measures the government is contemplating because they got used to “luxurious lifestyle”, pointing that Sudanese houses before 1989 were "ugly" and people only heard about “pizza” without knowing what exactly it is.
He added that Sudanese people used to drive trucks only but now there are different varieties of cars.
Abdel-Rasool said that the per capita income has increased from $400 to $1700 and pointed that the new economic measures would benefit the poor, adding that Darfur states recorded the highest poverty rates in the country.
He stressed that wheat, sugar, and drugs are exempted from the Value Added Tax (VAT) and said that Sudan is attracting foreign labor, pointing that the wage of an expatriate Ethiopian worker in Sudan is Equivalent to the wage of “undersecretary of a ministry” in Ethiopia.
Sudan lost 75% of its oil reserves after the southern part of the country became an independent nation in July 2011 denying the north billions of dollars in revenues.
Prior to the country’s breakup, Sudan produced close to 500,000 barrels but now its output is limited to 140,000 barrels per day. Oil revenue constituted more than half of the Sudan’s revenue and 90% of its exports.
Following the independence of South Sudan in July 2011, Khartoum was forced to introduce a contractionary budget that saw the partial lifting of fuel and food subsidies which triggered rare but small demonstrations across the country.
The government defended the measures saying that the country can no longer afford to pay for these subsidies.
The Sudanese president acknowledged that removal of fuel subsidies is a "difficult but necessary surgery" and called for not underestimating the accomplishments of his government, saying that prior to his taking over power people couldn’t even find the basic goods and 100% of the students in the various Sudanese regions sat on the floor of their “rickety sheds” classrooms.
He accused rebel groups of targeting and destroying development schemes and water sources, calling for ending rebellion and waging war against tribalism and regionalism.
Bashir stressed that his government continues to face conspiracies of the “oppressive and aggressive” foreign powers, adding that they target Sudan’s Islamic orientation.
He said that what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Palestine represent a conspiracy against Islam, pointing that the Zionist-Crusader alliance sees Islam as its number one enemy.
Bashir said that his government is led by principles and it could have chosen the easy path by normalizing relations with Israel and bowing to the west.
He called for increasing production and cutting government spending, saying that the 25% decrease in the salaries of the top government employees which was applied as part of the austerity measures had little impact on the economy.
The minister of Welfare and Social Security, Mashair Al-Dawalab, for her part, said that the new economic measures would benefit the vulnerable sections of the society, stressing that the economic reforms were made by the government not the minister of Finance.
The Sudanese government postponed the removal of subsides on several basic commodities as the NCP said its lift should come into force after concluding consultations with the political forces and civil society groups.
Qutbi al-Mahdi, a leading NCP figure, acknowledged that the NCP leadership is in disagreement over the decision but stressed that the majority believes that this has to be done at some point.
The sudden delay follows rumors about sharp divergences within the government ranks about these unpopular decisions which are seen necessary by the finance minister but disastrous by other members who fear that it will push people to take the street against the regime.
The Sudanese government cancelled an extraordinary cabinet meeting scheduled to be held last Sunday to endorse the increase of prices of basic commodities including fuel, without further explanations.
Different sources in Khartoum say the government delayed the implementation of the decision following recommendations from the security apparatus which reported a situation of public discontent against the government.
The Sudanese opposition umbrella organization known as the National Consensus Forces (NCF) announced that it is planning to organize public sit-ins to resist the government’s anticipated decision.
Also the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of rebel groups issued a statement calling on their supporters inside the country to protest against the economic reforms.
However the Finance minister Ali Mahmoud denied on Sunday that the cancellation is related to fears of demonstrations to protest such measures. The Sudanese people showed patience and accepted decision biggest and toughest than the removal of subsides, he said.