This is the full text of the interview Majozi Dlamini, the Swazi Finance Minister, gave to the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, and published on 29 November 2010. It did not appear on the Times’ Internet site – so I’m putting it up here for people in the international community to judge for themselves Sithole’s fitness for office.
Thank you to Laura for typing it up.
With the Economy seemingly hitting its lowest ebb, Times Senior reporter Banele Dlamini sat down with the Minister of Finance to find out how things got to where they are. The minister is dank and elaborative in this exclusive interview when you read it from his own words where we are and where the country is likely to be headed.
TIMES – People think seemingly, government waited unti it was too late before we acted, why is it that we waited so long? What happened?
MAJOZI – I think it is a challenge of dealing with people in terms of your so-called factors of production. One of the most difficult factors of production is labour. You can say when you have capital and equipment ‘let me stop’ there are no emotions involved. ‘I have too much land. Let me stop.’ But when it comes to a person, especially when you have hired him, the laying off in government is a challenge. Even now, people are asking ‘where do you think they will go when you lay them off?’ The private sector does not have to think twice. If it has come to a point where business does not do well yet it is paying too much on salaries it retrenches following laid down laws. It just gives out packages and people go. The softer approach is offering voluntary packages but say ‘know very well that if you do not take the package we are offering we will withdraw it and use law and you go home with a lesser package.’
This was the alternative because retrenchment is perceived as something government can do because it is a different kind of employer. It is not only an employer but also a government. When you talk of unemployment rate the people will call government to act. They wondered what government was trying to do to address unemployment. “Do you want to add to unemployment” Those are the challenges that come.
But when you tell people that the situation is bad yet you come back with a big package from SACU people say ‘we hear that but we can still manage.’ Even if you tell them that going forward will give us problems.
This is not a once off, if I hire you it dies not mean I will pay you once. I am stuck with you for life. If you increase the number, it is still a commitment for life. When you try to warn them it does not sink (sic) easily. More so, when trying to retrench in government you do that exercise with the workers who may not be necessarily exited to see others leave. It is not like when you are running your own company and take unilateral decisions because it is yours. In government, it belongs to all of us.
It has taken long to implement those programmes. We were under pressure from IMF; we were being advised to reduce the wage bill or it would give us problems. The reason why I think now it appears that we are doing something is because everyone can see that we have reached a point where we cannot go on like this. This is where you see that sometimes you can turn a crisis into an opportunity. You are in a crisis situation but an opportunity to reform, restructure and to deal with issues that under other circumstances nobody would understand why you do them.
I am saying that for us to get out of this situation we need to turn this crisis into an opportunity. That is for us to restructure and do a lot of structural reforms that we need in a number of areas as a country.
TIMES – If we succeed, how do we prevent it from happening again?
MAJOZI – You will never be able to run away from social challenges. For now we are paying school fees for OVCs and elderly grants. Your next challenge is looking at health insurance-making it available to every Swazi. That we cannot run away from, but I am saying if we could stop government from losing the money it is right now through corruption, we are a rich country. We would have problems but not to this magnitude.
At the end of the day you might have a good law but how is the character of the people who implement it? As much as you try all of these things they are used by people. That is what I was trying to explain in Senate the other day. For instance, the treasury department pays out money because they have all the necessary documents to trigger money yet nothing has been delivered. But the person who is supposed to receive the delivery has signed acknowledging receipt of goods. The person supposed to supervise the road and approve that it has been completed has signed. The collusion is such that sometimes it happens that we build a road from Manzini to Lomahasha and you and I are happy with it. But the people colluding and who know the job, how much money does the contractor save by cutting the standard for the thickness of the tar by one centimetre from Manzini to Lomahasha? They do that and still charge as if they have done the full thing. The person who is supposed to inspect the road has his cut from that. You are paying for something that was not delivered, literally.
In the construction of the Income Tax Building, the contractor is supposed to give a guarantee of a certain number of years or months then everything is perfect. But that was not the case as there were leaks just immediately it was completed. Nobody followed up with that contractor to argue that this be corrected under the guarantee. They just started maintaining it, even poorly, when this thing is under guarantee. If it was your personal house you would demand that the builder fixes the problems but because we are in government people keep quiet. You do not know if someone has received a cut. You begin to spend on something that you should not be spending on. Not to mention that the person had charged you an inflated price to start with.
So I believe there is a lot of money we are losing through corrupt practices. We are paying money for things that are not done correctly. If all of these things were not happening, if all of that money was being used on government priorities, I am convinced we would be much better of (sic) as a country.
We would not be where we are. Of course, coupled with the other things like prioritising our spending we would not be where we are.
TIMES – People on the streets would wonder why Minister Majozi is complaining yet he holds the keys for the release of the money. How is the money ‘stolen’ when you are there?
MAJOZI - I sympathise with people who are not in government. I tried to explain before that unfortunately government does not work like a normal spaza or a small business where the money is kept on your person and when you are told to make payment or something as it has been delivered you can verify that before making payment. Unfortunately it does not happen like that in government.
I have said before that in some countries the Ministry of Finance is combined with he Ministry of Economic Planning. The planning plans the country’s economy while the finance concentrates on raising money. Then on the instruction of the Planning department it allocates resources based on the plans for the county’s economy. If the money is not enough Finance devises strategise on how to get mere money and monitors if the money is used well but somebody plans. Now in the case of Swaziland you have a separate minister of finance and a separate minister for planning. Because of what we are used to, in the case of South Africa you would her Trevor Manuel talk about everything, you expect Majozi to do the same. On where the economy is headed and plans to grow it. ‘Why are we growing at two per cent when our neighbours are growing at five percent?’ You are expecting the answer from the Minster of finance, who is not the minister of both finance and planning. You forget to check what has been planned. ‘In this situation what is the economic recovery plan?’ That is what happens and you cannot tell the public not to ask you. You find yourself needing to respond to those questions.
TIMES – Given all these things, what keeps you going as you have hinted that you wish your term could come to an end because of the untouchables?
MAJOZI – To Swazis the term untouchable refers to the people of a particular class but I am not even there. I am talking about a member of the staff who does not deliver on his job yet his or her supervisors are not doing anything to address that. He has become untouchable. I am talking about an ordinary person you will find that there is no evidence in his file and in many instances his supervisors are even afraid to give him a warning letter.
Yes, there are worse scenarios in some ministries you hear of a minister who is said to be interfering with the work of the people. Granted as minister you must have a certain degree of interest in what the staff is doing. For instance if there is something that I do not understand at FINCORP I will request that we meet so that they explain things to me. Someone else might argue that I am frustrating him. We challenge each other every second day with the Central Bank when they want to do things a certain way and I ask them why. I am against interference when you issue an order even on how tenders should be given to. That is corruption to me. It contributes to undermining the effectiveness of the ministry.
TIMES – What can the public do to help get the country out of the situation we are presently in? How can we bring every Swazi on board to rescue our economy?
MAJOZI – I am not alone in this lament. Even His Majesty King Mswati III has spoken out against corruption. Even at government level the prime minister is complaining about this and is trying means on how we can address this. We may not be delivering as quickly as we would have wanted. I have even urged some of the consultants that we have engaged that the public is waiting to see a difference. Some of the advisors that we have as a country, say we have instruments in place but there is need for delivery in the sense that we catch the big ‘fish’. Others tell us that we should not be surprised by the perceived lack of delivery because in some bigger countries it took more than two years before they could effectively have an arrest because you must do all that you can to close all the loopholes. We all now know there is a problem and we must do something about it. Concerning the fiscal situation, I do not recall that the country has ever been in such. SACU contributed however not on its own because it added onto the global economic meltdown our import levels declined significantly in the process. We were disarmed by the decrease in our main source of revenue, by 62 percent. This is why I say it is government that is faced with a financial problem.
I believe with the measures we are taking the path to recovery will be clear by the end of the finacnial year. I believe outside government the people who will be greatly affected are those who went into business to depend on government Otherwise the rest of the economy is not in a bad state.
TIMES – What are your other challenges?
MAJOZI – While we were in Cabinet, someone wondered how the cleaning staff is able to claim overtime. That minister said they are barely seen during the day yet they are here and they argue they cannot because we were holding a meeting, understandably so, they cannot be coming to clean when I am busy working. They will come in on Saturday or Sunday to clean because no one is here then they claim overtime, But the question becomes ‘is that really overtime?’ What were they doing in the course of the week?’ When you ask the under secretary responsible for administration will say he heard from their supervisors. Even if they decide to clean at night, why would you pay them for the day then overtime?
Parliament once instituted investigations into operation of the Income Tax department. Once classic example was that the Commissioner was questioned on millions that were being spent on cleaning materials. She said that was true and that there is an officer responsible for purchasing materials but revealed that upon investigation it was found that the cleaning staff had never been given cleaning materials when every now and again payments were being made for such. The staff told here that it was only using water to clean. Then you ask yourself ‘where do the cleaning materials go because obviously they do not get there?’
These are the kinds of things that help you see the leakages. They (sic) the authority, they release the money but you were trusted them (sic). But it is not done. At the same time you cannot be everywhere because there is so much to do that needs your full concentration. I always envy those who run around trying to be everywhere. There must be a way to strengthen government so that people take responsibility and know they are not supervisors by chance. Know that by being a supervisor it means they will take decisions that will not make them popular because they need to fire people.
People ‘clean’ their files in government. You write the first and second warning letters but when you go to file the third one you find that the first two letters are not there. If you go to the industrial court there is nothing in the files. How do you access your files so that you remove such things? Could it happen in private sector? No. Are (sic) too used to each other? I do not know? Do we have skeletons such that you cannot take action because you are afraid that your staff will expose them? I wish somebody would say that so I could also call the Zionists to come and clean my closet to remove all the skeletons. I want to deal with people straight so that they know wrong when they do it.