Lawmakers in South Sudan came under fire on Thursday after it was announced they would receive $40,000 car loans, while more than half the population depend on food aid.
Parliamentarians’ salaries are just $50 (9,000 South Sudanese pounds) so it is unclear how they would be able to repay such a large debt, although MPs have been pushing for a pay rise.
“The money should have been used for fixing roads. I don’t think it is a good idea giving that $40,000 to one person. That $40,000 is a lot to South Sudanese currently,” said Mr Paul Kenyi, a motorcycle trader in the capital Juba.
A lawmaker and a parliament spokesman both independently confirmed the scheme to AFP.
But a presidential spokesman defended the $16m expenditure, saying MPs could not be expected to “use motorbikes”.
Critics have accused the government of rewarding MPs two weeks after they voted to extend President Salva Kiir’s term to 2021.
South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011, has been gripped by civil war, including fighting within the national army.
The war has left the oil-rich country’s economy in ruins, agriculture heavily disrupted and civil servants unpaid for months.
Series of demands
Seven million South Sudanese, more than half of the population, will need food aid in 2018, the United Nations says.
“One would wonder as to how they will pay it back,” said University of Juba economics professor and former deputy finance minister Marial Awou.
“This will trigger a series of demands for salary increases which the country cannot afford at this time.”