Dinka villagers gather to meet a visiting United Nations delegation led by U.S. Photographer: Flavia Krause-Jackson/Bloomberg
INTERNATIONAL - They’re high-level civil servants charged with helping South Sudan rebuild institutions and an economy shattered by a four-year civil war. First, though, they need to feed their families in a city where a bean stew can cost a day and a half’s pay.

For two hours in the morning before work at a state ministry, one civil servant orders a junior employee to drive his government vehicle around the capital, Juba, in search of passengers. If his underling collects at least 2,000 South Sudanese pounds ($15.35) in fares then the official can afford a meal for his wife and children. He asked not to be identified because the practice is against ministry rules.

Such ploys are common among South Sudanese government workers whose pay -- when it comes at all -- is woefully inadequate for a country where food costs relative to salaries are the highest on the planet. The World Food Programme last month said ingredients for a plate of that simple stew would cost 155 percent of the average daily income, the equivalent of a New Yorker paying $321. As state employees struggle to find extra cash, that may mean their official task of rebuilding the oil-producing nation is sidelined.

“There will be no economic growth because people are not attending to their work regularly,” said Marial Awou Yol, dean of the college of social and economic studies at the University of Juba. “Public sector employees are not being motivated to attend work punctually” and instead entering “the informal sector of the economy where there are opportunities,” he said.

Development Needs

South Sudan’s conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, forced 4 million from their homes and cratered an economy that already desperately needed development on independence in 2011. The International Monetary Fund estimates output will contract 3.5 percent this year, while annual inflation was 155 percent in July, the last month in which the index was published. The World Bank estimates the size of South Sudan’s economy at $9 billion.

Authorities, trying to attract oil companies to exploit sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest reserves, held an energy conference in Juba last month and plan to more than double daily output to 280,000 barrels by the end of 2018. The country was producing at least 350,000 barrels a day when it seceded from Sudan in 2011 and oil is the government’s almost sole source of income.

“The lack of cohesion and motivation between the country’s political leadership, government and civil servants certainly doesn’t bode well for South Sudan in offering a stable investment climate to oil companies,” said Luke Patey, a researcher on the country’s oil industry at the Danish Institute for International Studies in Copenhagen.

The government is struggling to meet its financial obligations as a result of the economic crisis, but is doing everything possible to see that employees receive payments, even if they’re delayed, Deputy Information Minister Paul Akol Kordit said by phone from Juba on Oct. 30.

Soaring Prices

South Sudan’s soaring food prices, slumping currency and chronic food shortages are leaving many families struggling to put meals on the table, the United Nations aid coordination office in the country said in an Oct. 27 statement. The economic crisis continues to erode households’ purchasing power, leaving many more people hungry in a country where 6 million are already food insecure, it said.

The U.S. in September slapped sanctions on three current and former South Sudanese officials for their alleged roles in destabilizing the country and “enriching” themselves through corruption. Authorities dismissed the accusations and said singling out government figures and ignoring the armed opposition sent “a wrong signal.”

Another government ministry official who requested anonymity clocks off early and by 2 p.m. is replenishing the shelves of a small bar he opened on the outskirts of Juba in March. Serving Ugandan beer for five hours in the afternoon and evening earns the father of three 500 pounds a day, a fifth of his oft-delayed monthly wage.

- BLOOMBERG