3 July 2011
No loans without conditions
By Musa Hlophe
If you had a good friend come to your door and ask you for a loan because he was in hard times, would you give it to him?
If that good friend was a drunkard who gambled and entertained many different women throughout the week while his wives and children starved would you lend him the money?
Probably not. What if he said he had changed his ways?
Would you believe him even though he has made and broken the same promises to you every time before?
Surely not. What if he solemnly wrote out these promises in a fancy paper outlining his intentions in Faithfulness and Responsibility (FAR).You would ask to see proof.
You would say, "As your friend, I hear your promises but I will truly believe you when you start to behave according to your FAR".
Anyone who knows how addicts work knows that their ability to promise anything to get the drug of their choice is part of the sickness from which they are suffering.
They really do intend to change when they make the promise, but ask us to please just let them have one more night on the town before they have to clean their act up.
The people who believe them, sympathise with them and give them what they need are called ‘enablers.’
They confuse sympathy for the real suffering of the addict with their responsibility as true friends to help their afflicted comrades to help to change their addictive behaviour and personality.
It is really difficult to see a person going through the horrors of withdrawal from addiction but it is so much crueller to let them stay addicted when you have the power to intervene in a positive way.
The true friend makes the harsh decision and says, "I will not enable you to continue with your destructive behaviour. If you want my help, it must be if you not only want to change but are prepared to really do the work and get started."
Last week, civil society in Swaziland said to our brothers and sisters in South Africa: "Our government is hopelessly addicted to its extravagant and wasteful spending patterns. They have brought the country to its knees and without real reforms, they have no way of doing anything about the dire situation we are facing."
Civil society felt that it had to because nobody else was taking the responsibility of talking to the government and its ‘enabling’ friends honestly.
The Tinkhundla system was set up to preserve a set of relationships and values that keep an elite few in power.
The 2005 Constitution went further. It made the powerful unaccountable and kept the unaccountable powerful.
Our Lesotho-born Chief Justice has gone further again by saying anything is done in the name of the King is beyond the jurisdiction of his courts.
How can judges then call our government, which is addicted to control, to account?
It seems that those who do are now up for disciplinary action rather than praise for doing their lawful and constitutional duties.
The present Parliament has actually made some steps to combat this position of government’s arrogance.
The Parliamentary Affairs Committee has shown some independence and challenged members of the government to account for their actions.
For that, I say, well done. It was a good start - but they seem to only hold civil servants to account.
In a proper democracy, you hold ministers to account - not their servants.
More importantly, Parliament is still unable to debate the really big issues openly, honestly and fearlessly.
I can mention the ministers’ controversial acquisitions of land, spending on the civil lists and military, the behaviour of the security forces and especially the police on April 12 and many others.
Swazi parliamentarians are prepared to scrutinise the weak but not yet the powerful.
This is why civil society knew that it had to make its recent statement to South Africa. It said, please do not just give Swaziland a loan because it will just continue to do what it always has done - spend public funds keeping those who are already rich, happy, those who are loyal, comfortable and those who are in power, unaccountable.
We are fighting for the poor, the sick and the hungry when we say no loans without conditions.
We are like the friends of the alcoholic wife-beater who say: no money without showing us how you have changed.
Loans without conditions will make the situation worse, not better.
Civil society is prepared to look the terrible truth in the face and say that the causes of the dire situation we face lie in how we chose to behave when we were living in times of plenty. We spent money pretending we were rich rather than working our way out of poverty.
Two weeks ago, in this column, I called this government’s behaviour ‘The economics of the pigsty.’
I meant it.
While Circular No 1 remains in force, all we are seeing are the fattest pigs making sure they get their snouts in the bowl before everyone else does.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) told the government to cut its wage bill by 10 per cent.
There are many ways of doing this - and the unions have come up with some very creative suggestions such as reducing the number of ministries, training civil servants to become business owners, and taxing or nationalising Tibiyo.
The government will not even entertain these - all it wants is for the people at the bottom to suffer. It only wants to talk about wage cuts. If it manages to impose a 50 per cent wage cut for a cleaner on E2 000 it forces her to go from poverty to prostitution. While a 50 per cent cut for a senior government ‘yes men’ on E 70 000 is like asking them to drive Mazdas instead of Mercedes.
Last week Finance Minister Majozi Sithole asked us to pray for the African Development Bank loan.
If he had opened his bible in the right place, at the right time, he might have come across the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh’s dream.
In that dream, Pharaoh saw seven fat calves being eaten by seven hungry calves.
Joseph correctly interpreted the dream to mean Egypt would experience times of wealth and times of hunger and it should prepare for them appropriately.
Pharaoh put Joseph in charge and in the times of plenty they stored grain and goods so that in the times of hunger there was enough for all the people of Egypt as well as enough extra to sell goods to foreign lands and increase the wealth of Egypt.
When the government of this country had massive, unearned money coming in from the Southern African Customs Union, what did it do?
Did it behave like Joseph, storing and investing its money so that it would work for the Swazi Nation in times of need – or did it act like a pathetic alcoholic and enjoyed the money for today only?
Our current economic crisis is the answer to that question.
Our colleagues in the international community, the IMF, World Bank and others warned the Swazi government about this behaviour but our authorities continued drinking in the bars of patronage, nepotism and corruption.
They used the money to make the rich, richer. They used it to buy silence.
They used it to over-pay and over-stock the civil service and especially the security services so that if the time came and the money ran out, they could be protected by force, not justice.
At the same time they called for a peaceful nation. Peaceful - on what terms?
Swazi Civil Society took a stand and said it was madness to expect a different result when we kept doing the same things. Yes, Swaziland needs the money but we must remember that we are not really taking money from strangers or borrowing money off foreigners but stealing it from our children.
They will have to pay it back to the foreigners instead of investing it in their own futures.
When we borrow money today, we are asking our children to pay it back tomorrow.
This puts a responsibility on us to make sure the money we get is then invested so that our children are able to pay it back.
There is no evidence in the current FAR (Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap) that any of this thinking has been applied.
It is like the alcoholic’s promise to do better without any intention to carry out its promises.
The IMF agrees and has said it will not offer support until it sees real and positive change.
On the other hand, the South African Government says no change is necessary.
I hope they can live with that when the country eventually collapses under the weight of the South Africans’ economic and political short-sightedness. It would have enabled us to get further in debt with absolutely no way of saving ourselves.
You do not give booze to a committed drunkard.
You should not give money to the openly corrupt and inept.
Swaziland’s Civil Society is not prepared to allow Swaziland to lurch from crisis to crisis, stealing our children’s future to prop up a corrupt, self-serving and self-perpetuating system.
In spite of what senators and the hopelessly undemocratic Minister of Foreign Affairs Lutfo Dlamini may say - civil society representatives are the true Swazi loyalists - loyal to the truth, the people of Swaziland and their children.
There has never been a better time to be a true and loyal Swazi, when loyalty is not measured by the passive acceptance of our history, systems and culture but by our commitment to our future as a nation.
If we are to survive, we must change what we do.
Should we sell our sons’ and daughters’ birthrights and inheritances?
Swaziland’s Civil Society’s plea to South Africa was simply a cry from the impoverished.
Without democratic reform, Swaziland can only continue in its spiral of debt. Please South Africa, do not just help us.
Help us to help ourselves.