3 October 2013

Swaziland Govt's Investment 'Fantasy'

The announcement that an international convention centre and a five star hotel worth over E1 billion (US$100 million) will be constructed in Ezulwini in Swaziland, financed by the government, should not be believed.

Instead, it should be placed on the pile of broken promises made over the past few years about inward investment in Swaziland. Billions of dollars were promised in investment from all over the world, for projects that did not materialise.

The latest plan, reported in Swazi media as if the buildings were already up, is said to be from the Government of Swaziland, 'spearheaded by the Millennium Projects Management Unit within the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development'.

The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported, 'According to the Senior Engineer of the unit Wilcan Mdluli, government will fund the project. Mdluli said construction of the six storey building was envisaged to start mid next year and was expected to take about three years to complete.'

The Swazi Observer reported, 'The scope of the project include a facility of international standards with a Swazi theme, a facility to handle up to 4,500 delegates at a time, trade centre for high value exhibition, a secure chamber room to take 53 heads of state, 3,500 seat banqueting hall, restaurants, 1,500 seat theatre, and special holding rooms.'

The announcement tested the critical faculties of local journalists and they have been found wanting. Observers of the kingdom will know that numerous grandiose plans have been announced in recent years and have come to nothing.

In April 2009, King Mswati III announced the building of a multi-billion emalangeni Swazi City, financed by international money and comprising a 25,000 sq m shopping, entertainment and 'wellness' centre 'to rival the world'. There would be a Science and Technology Park, a hi-technology industrial Site and an expansion of the Matsapha Industrial Site. It would be completed by 2012, creating 15,000 new jobs. It did not happen.

In October 2009 we were promised an E1.5bn 'facelift' for the Swazi capital city Mbabane. That money would buy a civic centre and a shopping mall, described at the time as a 'fully fledged state of the art 21st Century Civic Centre befitting a country's capital city'. Work was expected to start in June 2010 and take three years to build. It did not happen.

In November 2009, King Mswati announced a plan partly financed from in the oil state of Qatar to build an E35bn (US$4.8bn at the then exchange rate) 'world class facility' that would store at least a three-month supply of fuel for Swaziland. It did not happen.

In November 2012 the king returned from a trip to the UnitedArab Emirates (UAE) and Taiwan, claiming that he had secured Taiwanese investment to build a pharmaceutical plant, a food processing plant, a bottled water plant, a cosmetics plant and a granite and marble venture - which, according to a report in the Times of Swaziland newspaper, were expected to create more than 3,000 jobs. It has not happened.

In October 2010, the Swazi Government announced its 'fiscal adjustment roadmap' to save the kingdom's economy. This would include attracting investment to create, 'between 25,000 and 30,000 new jobs created in the private sector'. These jobs have not materialised.

These are just some of the plans announced that border on fantasy. The truth is that Swaziland is a poor country that has no need of luxury hotels capable of hosting 53 heads of state at a time. Seven in 10 of the Swaziland population of 1.3 million are so poor they earn less than US$2 a day. No foreign investors are going to want to be involved in such schemes.

The Swaziland Government has no money to build conference centres and hotels, such as the one announced for Ezulwini.

A report published by the UK think-tank Chatham House in September 2013 stated that Swaziland's gross domestic product is only 1 percent of that of its neighbour South Africa and was a relatively poor country compared to other countries in the region and in recent years it has failed to reach the same levels of economic growth as its neighbours.

'The Swazi economy is on an unsustainable trajectory,' the report concluded.

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