Burundi officials told to pay for elections

By on 25/01/2018
Burundi has rich natural resources, but political strife has hampered its development (Image courtesy: Francesca Ansaloni).

Burundi’s civil servants have been told to contribute a proportion of their salaries to a fund established to pay for the country’s 2020 general elections, after international donors halted aid flows following a disputed election.

In a move which has been described as “organised robbery” by rights groups, interior minister Pascal Barandagiye informed civil servants that they should forego a portion of their monthly salaries – with the amounts linked to their monthly salaries.

According to information from a Burundian journalist, a statement from the ministers of home affairs and finances makes clear that civil servants earning 50-500,000 Burundian Francs (BIF) (US$28-280) per month will be expected to pay BIF5000 (US$2.80) out of every pay packet. Those earning BIF500-1000,000 (US$280-560) must fork out BIF30,000 (US$17). And the few earning above BIF1m will lose one month’s salary over the year.

Commenting on the proposal at a news conference, Barandagiye said: “The total amount of the election cost is not yet known… But as soon as the needed fund is got, the fundraising campaign will be halted.”

He added: “That contribution should be given voluntarily; it shouldn’t be seen as a head tax. We are convinced that everyone will contribute. If, by chance there is someone who wants to make an exception, he can express it officially in writing.”

Salary flow reverses

Burundi received external aid to pay for elections until 2015. But then disputes over whether President Pierre Nkurunziza was eligible to stand for a third term in office led to fighting, an abortive coup, and an election boycotted by the opposition – at which Nkurunziza was re-elected. International donors have since suspended financial support.

To plug the funding gap, the government has told its civil servants to pay a tithe. But Gabriel Rufyiri – head of anti-corruption at OLUCOME, the anti-corruption watchdog based in Burundi – believes such fundraising orders are only constitutional for natural disasters.

The civil rights advocate, who has been forced into exile by the political crisis, said: “This is organised robbery. Contrary to what the government says, this contribution will be mandatory.”

As a consequence of Burundi’s political upheaval and accusations of human rights violations, key donors such as the European Union have slashed financial support to the east African country. Burundi now relies on domestic tax collection and modest revenue from coffee and tea exports.

Note: this article has been edited following contributions from Innocent Habonimana, a Burundian journalist working for Burunga News

About Glen Munro

Glen Munro has worked as a journalist for a wide variety of trade and consumer titles, including the Daily Express, the Independent and the Evening Standard. Topics he has covered during his career include business issues, personal finance, travel and African and Caribbean affairs.

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