- The government of Mauritania has awarded its ministers a whopping six-fold pay increase in an attempt to clamp down on top level corruption as the country waits for its first offshore oilfields to come on stream later this year, officials confirmed. The follows a recent three-fold increase of the minimum wage.
Yesterday, Mauritanian government officials confirmed recent reports in the local media that 26 government ministers had been awarded a 633 percent pay rise to 950.000 Ouguiya (US$ 3,620), backdated to January. Previously ministers earned an official salary of just 150.000 Ouguiyas (US$ 570) per month.
Government insiders said that the generous pay increase was intended to stop rampant corruption within the top levels of government by paying ministers a decent wage which they would not feel obliged to supplement by taking bribes or embezzling state funds.
Mauritania's President, Maaouiya Ould Taya, awarded the pay rise as he gave ministers greater freedom for deciding how their departmental budgets are spent. However they were also given greater responsibility for ensuring that bugdets were executed properly.
Four ministries, including education, public works and rural development will be made accountable in this way in 2005. The same rules will be applied to all other government departments in 2006.
Previously all departmental spending was tightly controlled by the Finance Ministry, but much this did not prevent large sums of public money disappearing into private pockets.
The Central Bank forecasts that Mauritania will soon hit an oil boom. Offshore production is expected to start later this year and the Central Bank recently predicted that the the country would be exporting 250,000 barrels of crude per day by the end of 2007. At currently prices of more than US$ 50 per barrel that would give the country windfall foreign exchange earnings of more than US$ 4 billion per year.
However, right now the country is desperately poor and faces an immediate food crisis. The government estimates that nearly a third of Mauritania's 2.8 million people will face critical food shortages this year after locusts and drought ravaged the sparse desert pasture on which the country's nomadic herdmen depend and grain crops grown in the extreme south.
According to the World Bank, the income per capita is US$ 430 per annum - though this disguises gross inconsistencies in the distribution of wealth, with the majority of the population scratching a living out of less then one dollar a day, thus living in absolute poverty.
The Nouakchott government however has not only awarded its top officials with a pay rise in anticipation of the oil boom. Two months ago, the government increased the minimum wage nearly three-fold from 8,000 to 21,000 Ouguiya (US$ 30 to US$ 80) per month. This was the first rise in the largely notional minimum wage since the 1970s.
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