Government-run schools, hospitals and clinics and most administrative services in Chad have all been closed since 2 May when most of the country’s 32,000 civil servants went on strike demanding the government uses oil revenues to give them a wage increase.
“If the salaries are not paid we are ready to go to the streets,” Laldjim Narcisse, a secondary school teacher told IRIN on Friday. “The government has much more money than it had before [from oil revenue] but it is only using it to buy weapons,” he complained.
Most observers in N’djamena said that the threat of the strike turning into a popular uprising is unlikely.
“The unions only really represent the interests of civil servants and most of the population are unemployed and see civil servants as the fat cats,” said one analyst.
Meanwhile, the population is certainly suffering.
“My wife was very sick last month but when I took her to hospital no one was there to receive her,” said Annour Ali, a local trader. “It is not fair that I had to take her to a private clinic that cost me far more than I could afford.”
A final-year high student, Samuel Madjingar, said on Saturday that exams he had been preparing for for a long time were coming up next week.
The government has started sending troops to the schools to monitor exams, but Madjingar doubted that would be worthwhile. “We need teachers not soldiers to monitor out tests otherwise we think it would be better to just postpone the texts,” the student said.
On Thursday, President Idriss Deby conceded to union demands by offering a 15 percent salary increase.
“With this salary increase big projects planned for the majority of Chadians will be penalized,” said government spokesman Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor in a communique. He added that it would create a shortage of funds to improve access to water, health, environment, education and agriculture.
|They have the oil money, now they can afford to give us a decent wage|
“The people of Chad are in effect making a sacrifice for the civil servants,” he said.
But union members rejected the argument, saying that Chad has become an oil rich nation.
“They have the oil money now and they can afford to give us a decent wage,” said one teacher.
Salaries for teachers vary across Chad, but the maximum income per month is around 100,000 CFA (US$200).
The coordinator of most of the unions, Djibrine Assali, responded to the 15 percent offer on Saturday by telling IRIN that although health workers would now start to restore minimum health services, his members have rejected the government offer and nothing has really changed.
“We need at least 25 percent.”
One international financial analyst familiar with Chad’s economy said that in fact the government doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room with its budget.
“It did gain a huge windfall from oil profits last year but either it has spent the money or it has to put back in the treasury for next year because revenue is expected to drop radically next year,” the analyst said.
The minister of state and infrastructure, Adoum Younousmi argued that oil money should not be used to pay civil servants.
“Oil resources are too volatile and cannot serve as a [fixed cost] to increasing salaries,” he said. “If we increase salaries today we will have problems tomorrow.”
An International Monetary Fund reports shows that the government has spent at least 12 percent of its budget on the military, not including salaries for soldiers.
The government has reportedly ordered five new combat helicopters and other high tech equipment.
Minister Younousmi recently told IRIN that the government has no shame in admitting that it is spending a lot on the military.
“Like all states, Chad must have arms to defend the integrity and sovereignty of its territory,” he said.
Conditions of soldiers have reportedly improved with many receiving new uniforms vehicles. They do not appear to be supporting the general strike.