December 28, 2016 (JUBA) – High transport fares are draining funds from South Sudanese travelling during festive season, several commuters say.
With inflation of local currency, the South Sudanese Pound (SSP) at more than 800% and scare fuel, the increase in the number of passengers triggered a surge in the prices of tickets.
“There an increase of fares for about 30%,” said John Deng who owns a hardtop car that travels between Bor and Juba.
In November, Deng said passengers were charged between 600 and 800 SSP for the 200km Juba-Bor road, he said. That jumped to 1,000 and 1,200 SSP a week before Christmas. Juba to Nimule has surged from 500 SSP to 1,000 SSP during the festive season.
“It is a difficult choice that one has to make; to visit the family in the countryside or just spend holidays here in Juba,” said Martin Yota, a resident of Juba.
Yota denied against travelling but sent the transport fares to his parents “because there is no need to travel when I will not be able to help them with cash anyway.”
Traders attribute the increase in fares to high number of travellers and scarce fuel.
“The number of people travelling between Juba and Bor increased and there is no fuel. We have to buy it [fuel] in the black market,” he said.
In the black market, a litre of diesel costs 80 SSP compared to 22 SSP at the official price. The government owned Nile Pet company supplies fuel to South Sudan but it is rarely available.
In December 2015, the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of South Sudan allowed free floating exchange rate for the United States dollars from the fixed USD 1 to 3SSP. Currently, USD 1 fetch 94 SSP in the black market and South Sudanese currency has lost 80% of its value over the last twelve months. The fuel subsidies have been described unrealistic by critics.
Professor John Akec, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba, said the citizens are not benefiting from the fuel subsidies.
“The beneficiaries are young men, women, and children selling fuel on roads’ side, and their distributors who are pocketing subsidies at most,” said Akec in an op-ed published recently in the local press.
He said the government should remove the subsidies and redirect the money to other priority needs.
“Redirecting resources away from fuel subsidies could help reduce the deficit in the current budget from 40 percent to about 20 percent. It will not solve all our economic owes, but will partially assist towards closing the large gap in our public finances. It will also help stabilize the exchange rate of South Sudan pound against dollar as it will increase the oil revenue coming in,” he said.
For now, the travellers are paying the cost and diminishing their savings.
“It is one of the toughest holidays I have ever spent,” said David Tut, who flew to Bentiu from South Sudan’s capital Juba, paying 10,000 SSP for a commercial flight for just over hour trip.
"I had to cut my holidays and return to Juba because I risk spending all the cash I had there and be unable to return to work," he said.