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Friday, 6 March 2009

GO FIGURE, SWAZI FINANCE MINISTER

Swaziland Finance Minister Majozi Sithole’s is in a bit of a hole.


In his recent budget speech he managed to mislead the Swazi people on two occasions by giving statistics that were not true. The question now is: did he lie or is he just no good at his job?


The two cases involve a long standing dispute over the purchase of a private jet for King Mswati III and the unemployment figures.


The king’s jet first: seven years ago Sithole, then as now Finance Minister, and Swaziland’s present illegally-appointed Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who was also PM at the time, were leaders in a secret plot to buy the king his own jet. When news leaked out there was an outcry both inside Swaziland and abroad and the purchase was dropped, but not until Swaziland taxpayers had been forced to lose E28 million (2.6 million US dollars at today’s exchange rate) on a deposit.


Since the scandal was exposed in 2002, the Swazi Government has been telling the people that it is close to getting the deposit back. In his budget statement last week (27 February 2009), Sithole said the money was now on its way. When questioned on this is said that his government had been able to secure not E28 million, but E100 million.


The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, reported Sithole then said the E100 million represented the E28 million, plus interest at the rate of 10 percent per year.


Let’s halt there. Ten percent of E28 million is E2.8 million. Multiply that annual interest by the number of years this saga has been going on (seven) and you get E19.6 million. Add the deposit and the interest together and you get E47.6 million – nowhere close to the E100 million claimed by Sithole.


The discrepancy in Sithole’s arithmetic is plain for all to see, but no member of parliament questioned the figure and (frankly) the Observer made itself look pretty stupid by simply taking the minister’s word for it.


At least the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, the Times of Swaziland, eventually caught up with the fact that Sithole’s sums were wrong.


But by then the story had moved on. It seems a sum of E100 million does exist, and is in deposit in South Africa, but it is not the jet deposit. The money is reported to be from donor agencies and can be used for social projects in Swaziland, but it is not money that the Swazi Government is allowed to touch. The Finance Minister insists that this money is in fact the jet money.


Now, Lobamba Lomdzala MP Marwick Khumalo has raised suspicions in the House of Assembly. He says that if it turns out that Sithole has fooled the House about the jet deposit, a motion of a vote of no confidence against him would be moved. If Sithole loses this he should be sacked.


Now on to unemployment.


According to a report in the Times, Sithole announced during the National Budget Speech that the current unemployment rate for Swaziland stood at 28.2 per cent.


He told Parliament that out of a total labour force of 559,528; only 222,771 people are employed, ‘reflecting an unemployment rate of 28.2 per cent’.


No it doesn’t. If only 222,771 people are employed from a labour force of 559,528, that means 336,757 are not employed. Now do the arithmetic: 336,757 as a percentage of 559,528 is 60.1 percent – nowhere even close to Sithole’s figure of 28.2.


If we are kind to Sithole and say he made a slip of the tongue and meant to say that only 222,771 people are UNemployed – it still gives an unemployment rate of 39.8 percent – 11 percent higher than what he told Parliament.


Where does he get the figures from? Does he just pull them from a hat and hope nobody will notice or is he just talking nonsense?


So why the discrepancies? Did he lie to Parliament (and if so why?) or is he no good at his job?


Sithole delivered his ninth annual national budget as Finance Minister last month – you be the judge.

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