Swaziland’s Government has failed to improve the economy in any appreciable way and cannot pay its bills. This means immediate public expenditure cuts are needed if the government is to meet the budget targets it set itself in February 2012.
These are the latest findings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has just finished a visit to Swaziland.
The IMF has been assisting the government to get the economy back on track after years of neglect by successive governments, all handpicked by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Even though the Swazi Government created its own plan for what it called ‘fiscal adjustment’, which included reducing public expenditure and cuts in public sector jobs, it has done next to nothing to implement the plan.
Now, the IMF has spelled out the consequences of this inaction. In a statement following its visit, the IMF said the government would find it difficult to pay its bills this year, without increasing domestic borrowing. It also said that one reason for this was that the government had increased spending this year on security.
The government’s failure to pay its suppliers had meant that small businesses in the kingdom had suffered and ‘been forced to cut down their operations’, it said.
The IMF said for the government to meet its own financial plan it needed an ‘upfront reduction in the wage bill of 300 million emalangeni, (US$38 million) [and] additional cuts in non-priority recurrent expenditures’.
The IMF pointed out, ‘These cuts will require sacrifices by all segments of Swazi society, but the basic needs of the most vulnerable should be protected as far as possible.’
This is not the first time the IMF has stressed that some people in Swaziland are wealthy, while others are poor, and the better-off should make a greater sacrifice for the common good. In November 2011, Joannes Mongardini, leader of the IMF mission to Swaziland, suggested to the BBC that even King Mswati and the Royal Family should play their parts by reducing their budgets.
Nothing happened, although in October 2012 Swazi Finance Minister Majozi Sithole told the media that King Mswati was prepared to peg the amount of money he takes from the Swaziland budget and not increase his budget in future years. This statement was received with widespread scepticism, since the king continues to spend the Swazi people’s money on luxuries for himself.
In its most recent statement, the IMF also said the government would have to make further cuts in the 2013 – 2014 national budget, including cuts in what it called ‘non-priority spending’. It added, ‘Capital projects should be prioritized and funded based on maximizing their impact on economic growth and poverty alleviation.’
This implies that projects such as the Sikhuphe International Airport that is at least two years behind schedule for completion would not get any more money. This is unlikely to be the case, because even though the airport has been widely criticised as unnecessary and a ‘white elephant’ it is supported by King Mswati, to the extent that outside of Swaziland, the airport is often referred to as the king’s ‘vanity project’.
The IMF restated a point it has made for many years that many of Swaziland’s economic problems were not related to the global economy, but were situated within Swaziland. It said, ‘Growth in Swaziland has been weaker over the last ten years than in other SACU [Southern Africa Customs Union] countries. This is associated with high unemployment, widespread poverty, rising inequalities, and the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world.
‘A poor business climate and the lack of competitiveness are key obstacles to attaining higher sustainable growth and creating jobs.’
WHY IMF MUST DITCH SWAZILAND