A Swazi cabinet minister has told an international news agency that Swaziland can pay its public service salaries for the rest of the year.
The news came on the day that a different international news agency revealed that the government is so broke it has stopped paying pensions to old folk so that it can afford to pay school fees for orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs).
It begs the question who is the government going to steal the money from this time so it can pay the salaries? That, of course, is if we believe the cabinet minister.
So, what’s going on?
The cabinet minister first.
Jabulile Mashwama, the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade, told Reuters news agency today (22 March 2011), ‘The real risk is that we don’t have finance at the moment sufficient to meet ... needs. But from where we sit now, we will continue to pay salaries. There’s no risk not to pay salaries this year,’ she told a reporter while at an African investment forum in Dubai.
Mashwama claimed the mass protest in Swaziland on Friday that called for the government to resign only happened because there was a ‘lack of information’ about state finances and unfounded fears that civil servants would not get paid this month.
Now, the pensions.
The Swaziland government has suspended this quarter’s pensions for the elderly and redirected the money to pay the school fees of the OVCs, the IRIN news agency reported today.
‘Government] will utilize the funds allocated for the elderly grants, since they have R46 million (US$6.5 million) in that account currently, with a view that it shall be reimbursed timeously,’ said a finance ministry report to parliament explaining how the R38 million ($5.4 million) bill for OVC school fees would be met.
The remaining $1.15 million in the account was not enough to cover the quarterly pension payout due in March and it was therefore suspended.
About 5 percent of Swaziland’s approximately one million people are 60 years old or older and eligible for pensions. Roughly two-thirds of Swazis live in abject poverty.
IRIN reported that the pensions are indispensable for many of the elderly, as there is no alternative form of social security and private sector pensions are rare. The grants were increased two years ago from $21 per quarter to $85 and are paid four times a year.
But a loaf of bread costs about $1, so most people subsist on maize-meal, supplemented by wild spinach, edible herbs, emasi (sour milk) and occasionally meat.
Two weeks ago it was revealed that the government had taken provident fund subscriptions from teachers’ salaries, but had kept the money to pay its day-to-day bills.
Earlier this month, nurses had to strike to force the government to pay them their overdue allowances. The government caved in.
So, this is what’s going on. It is clear to anyone that the government is completely out of control over its finances and is lurching from crisis to crisis. The government stole from the elderly to pay for the children because it couldn’t think of anything else to do.
The government thinks it has gotten out of a hole and bought itself another few weeks time before the next crisis comes. But it hasn’t.
Mashwama’s claim that salaries will be paid until at least the end of the year cannot be trusted. Why won’t the government admit it?: it has run the kingdom into the ground and Swaziland has virtually run out of cash.
That’s the truth. It’s only a matter of time before the people realise it. Then all hell will break loose.