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Sudan to continue to subsidise bread but with 'justice'

February 13, 2020 at 6:07 pm

A general view of Khartoum’s historical Omdurman Market on December 09, 2019 in Sudan [Mahmoud Hajaj / Anadolu Agency]

Sudan will continue to subsidise bread prices during transitional rule after Omar al-Bashir’s ouster but wants to achieve “justice” in distributing income supports, its trade and industry minister said on Wednesday, according to a report by Reuters.

Bread shortages, caused by difficulties in raising hard currency to import wheat, triggered mass protests which – with the help of the military – toppled the veteran autocrat last April after three decades in power.

The new civilian government, ruling together with the armed forces for three years and three months, has been trying to address bread and fuel shortages that have led to lengthy queues outside bakeries and petrol stations.

The bread queues are caused at least in part by problems in ensuring supplies of subsidised flour to bakeries.

Trade and Industry Minister Madani Abbas Madani told reporters Sudan had sufficient wheat reserves until May and was in talks for deals to ensure enough stocks until year-end. Madani said:

The state is committed to subsidising bread during the transition period, but aims to ensure justice in distributing the subsidies

He added that within 45 days the government would also launch commercial bakeries which will sell non-subsidised bread drawing on commercial stocks.

He said the Khartoum government ultimately aimed to shift from subsidising wheat to subsidising bread, but that this required “infrastructure arrangements”.

Read: Key dates in Sudan’s political upheaval

That could allow bakeries to sell bread for more than the current fixed price of one Sudanese pound per loaf (2 US cents at the official rate, or 1 US cent on the parallel market) which has made it hard for bakeries to make money.

During the recent bread crisis, “resistance committees” have kept watch at bakeries to monitor supplies and crack down on what they say is corruption and leakages of subsidised flour.

From next week an electronic monitoring system will be introduced to track supplies and a hotline established for people to report malpractices, Madani said.

He said a newly formed police unit would be deployed to monitor flour and bread trade, alongside the resistance committees.

It was not immediately clear whether the new commercial bakeries would ease the burden on a government budget that is also subsidising fuel and other basic products in the widely impoverished country. Sudan currently spends about $65,000 per day on wheat, according to the trade ministry.

Sudan lost about 75% of its oil wealth, a major hard-currency source, when South Sudan declared independence in 2011.

Officials said on Wednesday that a problem with a refinery pipeline that was the main cause of fuel shortages over the past week had been fixed.

Read: Injuries in Sudanese protests against lack of bread and fuel