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TORIT - 16 May 2021

E. Equatoria residents decry high prices despite SSP gains

Traders at a market in Torit [Photo: Gurtong/Peter Lokale Nakimangole]
Traders at a market in Torit [Photo: Gurtong/Peter Lokale Nakimangole]

Citizens across Eastern Equatoria State, and particularly in the towns of Torit and Kapoeta, have said commodity prices in the markets remain exorbitant despite recent gains made by the South Sudanese Pound (SSP) against the US dollar.  

Recently, the government of South Sudan started auctioning 5 million U.S dollars weekly to commercial banks and forex exchange bureaus to strengthen the SSP, check runaway inflation and improve the economy leading to the U.S dollar dropping from 620 to 450 SSP.

However, many consumers and retailers who spoke to Radio Tamazuj said that the SSP gaining against the US dollar has not translated into a drop in prices of commodities. 

Tain Avsi, a Torit town resident, said: “prices of goods in the market remain high. The vegetables are sold at 50 pounds per bundle, and I came with 150 SSP so I took only three and this is affecting us a lot. We need a decrease in market prices because the dollar rate has reduced.”

William Losiata Rocko, another Torit inhabitant, urged the government to intervene by talking to traders to reduce prices because the dollar rate has reduced. He questioned why the authorities want vegetable sellers to reduce prices while leaving out shop owners.

“I saw that a lot of things in the markets are not going well yet, prices of commodities remain in their place. We are hearing that the dollar rate has reduced but we are not witnessing this from commodity prices in the market. I don’t know where the problem is.” Losiata queried. “There are people who have dollars and those without, even those with dollars are complaining. We are all affected. Even mangoes, 4 of them go for 500 SSP. The government is forcing vegetable sellers to reduce prices but the shops are still very expensive, why?”

Sanulina Kaku, a consumer, believes the government should have agents in the markets to safeguard the poor. She implored traders to empathize with the poor populace. 

“They are saying that the dollar has reduced but nothing is reducing in the market. A handful of okra is at 100, greens at 50, 1 kg of meat is at 1400 SSP. Nothing has changed in the market. The poor person has nothing to get so a committee must be formed to check the situation in the market because everybody sells at his own will,” she said. 

Magome Emma, a Ugandan trader in the Torit market, confirmed that goods are still expensive and attributed it to the fact that they procured the goods currently in stock when the U.S dollar was still high. He says they cannot reduce their prices now until they sell the current stock and recoup their monies. 

“The price fluctuation in the dollar has just brought some confusion, customers think prices have reduced because of the reduction of the dollar rate. We are still dealing in old stock and we hope that when this stock is finished and we bring new ones then the prices will reduce,” Magome said. 

But Lilly Hidita Nartisio, the chairperson of the chamber of commerce in Torit insists that prices of essential commodities have reduced. 

“People just want to complain but in reality, things have reduced. I went there the day before yesterday in the market so that people will not tell lies. Currently, prices have reduced. The traders hope that the price of the dollar remains constant but they fear that it will go up again,” Hidita said. 

In Kapoeta town, in a bid to check rising commodity prices, the authorities there have formed a committee to reduce prices. 

Elia Lokuda Lonyia, the Mayor of Kapoeta Municipality, said he has formed an 11-member committee comprising of the municipal council, security organs, chamber of commerce, business communities represented by different member countries of South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Eretria, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.

The formation of the committee was the result of a meeting between the Kapoeta municipal authorities, investment commission, security economic cluster, chamber of commerce, and business community on Wednesday last week to address market prices after gains made by the SSP against the U.S dollar. 

“All these traders have been giving us the reason of the dollar and so what we expect is that since the dollar has come down, that these prices should also come down. That is the main thing here,” Mayor Lokuda said. “The work of the committee is to see that these things (prices) have dropped down. Those who don’t drop it down, we have our people. You also take note and bring the report to us and by the time we will be giving the trading licenses, we will know who has a good heart to the people of this place.”

He threatened to only issue business operation licenses to those who have the interest of the people at heart but not money-minded individuals. 

Apiu Anyar, the chairperson of traders in the Kapoeta market, accused wholesalers of setting prices differently to the retailers and consumers. He explained that the wholesalers are foreign traders who predominantly sell goods to South Sudanese retailers at high prices.

“We considered all these people as equal, but the price they sell to South Sudanese is different from what they sell to their community,” Apiu said. “I have realized it myself in the market. There is a price for their people and there is a price for South Sudanese. We are equal in business and let them not segregate.”

Meanwhile, China Kiros who spoke on behalf of the wholesalers denied Apiu’s claims and said they consider everyone as a customer depending on the prices in the market.

 “No, no, this is not true. This is a customer, if your customer comes, you can give him at the price in the shop. Not different prices from person to person. We don’t have anything like that. Maybe you will reduce for him and give him a discount, but things like from person to person, we don’t do such things,” Kiros denies

For his part, Stephen Ihude Oduho, the director-general of investment, trade, and industry in Eastern Equatoria State, said they recently called for a meeting to ensure that traders adhere to government rules and regulations.

“We, in the ministry of trade, after we saw changes in the dollar, we called for traders in Torit- Sudanese, Ethiopians, Kenyans and we asked them why the prices remain high after the dollar rate reduced. But now we found that prices have reduced,” Ihude said. “The basic commodities like 50 kg of flour reduced from 13,000 to 10,000 SSP, the oil has reduced, 50 kg of sugar which was 25,000 also reduced to 18000 SSP. And fuel is also reduced, 1 litre is now 400 SSP which was earlier 500 SSP.”

He acknowledged that some prices remain high but that his office will soon engage the traders to find ways of reducing them.