It started with the doctors at the Juba teaching hospital, followed by those in Wau and Tambura. All those are from service institutions.
But when university lecturers, and lately the judges, joined the chorus in demand for unpaid salaries and better terms of work, Information Minister Michael Makuei did not hesitate any longer, saying the dramas were politically motivated.
“This situation is probably politically agitated because if you go today, you will find some people say we have not been paid for the last five months. Is it true?” Mr Makuei said after a Council of Ministers meeting on Friday.
“That is not correct,” he added. But, about a fortnight ago, Mr Makuei admitted the salaries weren’t paid for about three months due to the economic crunch.
At the beginning of this somewhat increasing rate of strikes, doctors at the Juba Teaching Hospital said they had not received salaries for months, and that they were in very poor working conditions: no allowances, transport, and accommodation.
But this died down when the Ministry of Health said it had paid all those on its payroll, and that further monthly wages were due.
This implied that those on strike were interns – fresh graduates from the university, whose names weren’t in the government payroll.
In Tambura, Gbudwe State, authorities said they were resolving a lapse in finding a contractor though which HIV/IADs workers would be paid.
But for the public university lecturers, there wasn’t an end in sight, with the lecturers calling for the Higher Education Minister Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba to resign.
Dr Adwok shot back with a stern warning that he could throw out the “disobedient” lecturers, who he said were playing “politics” over their demand for pay.
Last week, teachers in Jubek State tried to put up a human face about the demands.
“Teachers really are suffering. One of the teachers fell in front of the students in the class and was helped by the students,” said Bonfilio Tongun Alfons, the leader of the teachers’ professional union, referring to a previous experience of a teacher who collapsed of hunger while teaching.
Judges and justices joined the chorus on Thursday, warning the government to settle their pay and administrative issues, lest they lay down their tools on Monday this week. They need backdated promotions, unpaid salaries, transport, office space and halls for trial audiences.
As of Friday, there was no clear picture on whether the government would defuse this strike. Chief Justice Chan Reec Madut told The Eye that he didn’t want to speaker about the matter.
But Mr Makuei summed up all the motives of the strikes and threats in a sentence: “Those who believe that there is need for regime change are the ones setting all these fire but at the end of the day, if it comes to burn, it will burn all of us”.
He added: “So there is no way. The best thing is that let us tolerate, face the realities so that we can move forward with our nation.”
Mr Makuei also said the budget for the next financial year, which begins in July, has not been tabled in parliament because “up to this moment the institutions of transitional government are not yet fully established.”
“It is only when they are fully established that now [they will] sit down to work on the budget … we don’t know what will be the number of forces, there are so many things that need to be in order before you talk about all this,” he told reporters.
Despite the salary delays, Mr Makuei insisted that “we are working within the budget; the budget is not exhausted because we have not been using other sections of the budget; we have been only using the salary.”
He said the Council of Ministers, nevertheless, directed the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank to take measures to address the economic crisis.
However, teachers received a bit of supportive nudging from the parliament during the week.
“[The] committee of education has been speaking loudly to increase their salaries. That is why I called even upon the international organization if they could give something, just some stipends, some encouragement to the teachers so that they do better and our children could get better,” national assembly MP Ann Lino said on the International Day of the African Child on Thursday.
But for the judges, their concerns are yet fresh in the public domain.
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