South Sudanese information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth attends a press conference in Addis Ababa, Jan. 5, 2014.
South Sudanese information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth attends a press conference in Addis Ababa, Jan. 5, 2014.

South Sudan’s information minister says a section of the international community is undermining the government in Juba, by turning civil society groups and public sector workers against the administration. He says it is an effort seeking regime change in the country.

In an interview with VOA on Sunday, Information Minister Michael Makuei said, “There are some members of the international community who are now agitating here, agitating the civil society, agitating the public servants to go on strike. This is something orchestrated in order to declare the government a failed government. This is something to do with the policy of a regime change, [and] this is what we know."

"There are certain elements within the international community that are doing this and we know them,” Makuei added. He did not identify who the "elements" may be.

Labor action

Public sector workers have begun a strike to pressure the government for unpaid salaries. Some say they have not been paid for the past three to four months and the strike is the last resort to ensure the administration pays them.

Makuei denied the workers have not been paid for several months.

“We have heard that in some institutions there are some public sector workers who are already on strike and others will follow. All these things are being done on the pretext that their salaries have not been paid. Others have been exaggerating it, saying people have not been paid for four months, others for five months and so forth, which is not true,” said Makuei.

“The government of South Sudan is doing its level best, and within this coming week they would be paid and everybody would have his salary, if it is the question of salary. And thereafter, it would be clear to us as to what are the intentions because if it is the question of salaries, the salaries would be paid this coming week. If it is another thing then it will be clearer and we will know what it is.”

Critics of the government in Juba rejected Makuei’s statement that members of the international community are to blame for the government failure to meet its obligations to public sector workers. They said the administration’s mismanagement and inefficiency led to the failure to pay the workers. They said, the workers have the legitimate right to demand their pay from the government.

Makuei agreed the public sector workers have a legitimate right to demand their pay.

“The government of South Sudan had some financial or economic problems that need to be addressed, and the government is doing its level best to ensure that this situation is addressed. So there are certain elements now using that to agitate using that as an excuse to achieve their objective,” said Makuei.

Corruption blamed

Opponents of the government said the administration has the money to pay, but has been unable to do so due to endemic corruption and the inability of the country’s leaders to demand the return of stolen public funds. They contend senior government officials have been living lavishly and driving luxurious vehicles, despite claims that the public coffers are empty.

“This is why I am saying there are people who have other objectives other than the reality,” said Makuei. “The luxurious cars, which are allegedly being used by ministers, were just not bought now. These are luxurious cars which were bought [during] those days when the government of South Sudan had the necessary resources. So there is nothing new about the luxurious cars which people are talking about.”

“The question of ministers being seen living luxurious lifestyle, that is not true, it is not correct. Those people who talk like that are those agitators who have ill intentions. They are not genuine, they are not serious and these are mere statements, which are not substantiated. Ministers are usually the last to be paid,” he added.

Judiciary may join

Meanwhile, judges have also signaled they would embark on a strike action beginning Monday for unpaid wages, lack of personal security and office space. Makuei denied local media reports about the rationale behind the anticipated strike by the judges.

“That is not correct, the demand of the judges is not because of the delay of salaries or because they are not being paid, it is because they have their own demands. They have demands of the improvement of their conditions of service on their allowances and so on and so forth ... The government is doing its level best to address some of the concerns of the judges. Among them was the question of promotion [and now] some of the promotions have been made,” said Makuei.