EU provides $12m to help cash-strapped government in election run-up

The European Union granted Guinea-Bissau 9.5 million euros (US$12.3 million) of special aid on Thursday to help the cash-strapped West African country keep essential services going during the run-up to presidential elections due in May.

The grant agreement, signed in the capital Bissau, allocates 4.5 million euros ($5.9 million) towards covering the government's $84 million budget deficit this year.

Antonio Moreira Martins, the EU representative in Bissau, said this cash may be used to pay civil service salaries and finance preparations for the presidential election.

A further 2.5 million euros ($3.3 million) has been set aside to repair schools, hospitals and health clinics and the remaining 2.5 million ($3.3 million) will be used to help reform the civil service of this former Portuguese colony, he added.

The aid package was agreed following a donor conference for Guinea-Bissau held in Lisbon on 11 February. Louis Michel, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said at the time that Brussels would not provide any fresh funding until after the presidential election.

However, Guinea-Bissau's Foreign Minister, Soares Sambu, said at Thursday's signing ceremony that the European Commission had agreed to give the country immediate financial support as "an exceptional measure."

"This agreement reflects the political will of the European Union to extend a helping hand to our country at a time when it needs urgent and exceptional international assistance in order to ensure it remains stable and governable," he said.

The presidential election is due to complete Guinea-Bissau's return to constitutional rule following a bloodless coup in September 2003, which toppled the chaotic regime of former president Kumba Yala. Parliamentary elections were held in March last year.