20 January 2013

Swaziland: Minister Comes Clean on Economy

Swaziland's Finance Minister Majozi Sithole has backtracked on his claim that the kingdom's economy is no longer in crisis, after international observers proved he was not telling the truth.

Sithole claimed earlier this month (January 2013) that receipts of E12.2 billion (US$1.1 billion) due this year to Swaziland, mostly from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), meant, 'I can safely say the economy is now under control. We have survived the worst economic challenges ever.'

Media in Swaziland took him at his word - all broadcast news in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, is state-controlled and one of the two national newspaper groups is in effect owned by the king.

But once news travelled beyond the Swaziland borders, economists, bloggers, journalists and expert observers on the kingdom pointed out the truth: nothing had changed with the economy.

Swaziland is tied with Somalia as having the worst performing economy in Africa and the government continues to have the highest public sector wage bill per capita in sub-Saharan Africa. It cannot fund health and social welfare projects, but continues to waste millions of emalangeni bankrolling King Mswati, his 13 wives and a Royal Family so large, no one is sure how many members it has.

The king's vanity project, Sikhuphe international airport, remains uncompleted and unnecessary, but is still a black hole sucking in millions of US dollars a year.

Now, Sithole has been forced to go back to the Swazi media to change his story.

The Weekend Observer, one of the Swazi king's newspapers, reported him saying the receipts from SACU and money collected internally from taxes did not necessarily mean that the kingdom had overcome its financial woes but only that this came as some form of relief.

The Observer reported that Sithole granted the newspaper after, 'Commentators from outside our border, also said the minister's pronouncements were not in tandem with the obtaining situation on the ground.'

The newspaper reported Sithole saying, 'Swaziland was not out completely from the economic quagmire but this was an opportunity to use resource sparingly in order for the economy to sustain itself. He further said he was worried about the growth rate, being the lowest in the SACU.'

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