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South Sudan President Kiir Fires Petroleum Minister

FILE - South Sudan's Minister of Petroleum Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth speaks to reporters in the lobby of his residence hotel in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, May 18, 2019.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has fired the head of his country's crucial petroleum ministry, which accounts for more than 90 percent of government revenues.

Kiir issued a decree Thursday firing Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth after three years and replacing him with Awow Daniel Chuang.

He did not give a reason for the change, but a Juba-based economic analyst said Gatkouth was likely fired because he was not transparent about how the ministry's funds were being spent and could have broken laws about depositing the money into a government bank account.

Augustino Ting Mayai, a policy analyst at the Juba-based Sudd Institute, says during Ezekiel Lol Gatkouth's first year as petroleum minister, oil production and revenues declined as conflict raged across the country. On top of far less oil being produced, oil prices were falling on the international market.

FILE - A truck waits outside a petrol station of the Nile Petroleum Corporation in Juba, South Sudan, Oct. 1, 2017.
FILE - A truck waits outside a petrol station of the Nile Petroleum Corporation in Juba, South Sudan, Oct. 1, 2017.

While acknowledging that Gatkuoth managed to increase oil production during the past year, Mayai says the higher oil revenues did not benefit the general public.

"There has been widespread complaints from regular persons that money is not coming through because what is to be produced is mortgaged ahead of time or when it comes to people with contracts ready to get the cash, it does not get into the government's account," Mayai told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

Mayai says the Petroleum Act stipulates revenues generated from oil must be deposited directly into a South Sudan Central Bank account and must not be spent by the ministry of petroleum. Gatkuoth signed deals with oil companies and several unnamed businessmen, according to Mayai.

"Ezekiel's job was to milk the cow and to make it available to the institution that would distribute it to the general public or the consumers, and that doesn't seem to have been done. Ezekiel was directly contracting out our oil. That amounts to criminality," Mayai told VOA.

Gatkouth was not reachable by phone and is said to be out of the country.

Mayai says Gatkuoth was never charged with a crime due to politics and systemic weaknesses in the country's legal institutions.

Mayai also accuses Gatkouth of exaggerating the amount of oil being produced per day in addition to not telling the public how much money is coming in from oil or how that money is being used.

South Sudan currently produces roughly 175,000 barrels per day, according to the government.