The Finance Minister of Swaziland / eSwatini Neal Rijkenberg threatened to cut public service jobs if the kingdom did not fall into line and accept his programme to cut debts.
In his budget speech on Wednesday (27 February 2019) he also said there would be no cost of living (CoLA) pay increases for public servants. Public sector unions in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, have been campaigning over the past months for a 6.5 percent increase.
Rijkenberg said the government was broke and could not afford salary increases. He said, 'Our growing wage bill is placing insurmountable pressure on our budget and Government has been under immense strain to pay salaries due to the cash flow crisis. For wages and pensions, expenditure will increase from E8.2 billion in 2018/19 to E8.5 billion in 2019/20, this is despite the current hiring freeze. Given the state of the economy, it is not prudent or possible to budget for a CoLA in 2019/20, as the country simply cannot afford it.'
He said paying the salary increase would contribute to the kingdom's debts. If debt increased, he said, 'we will have no option but to cut the wage bill.' He did not give details but it would mean either cuts in salaries or job losses (or both).
After Rijkenberg's speech the Swaziland National Association of Teacher (SNAT) in a statement said, 'it is an open secret that the ordinary people do not benefit from the country's resources but the Royal Family is forever on the receiving end'.
SNAT stated, 'It beats logic why Mr. Neal can say the country recorded an economic growth of about 1.7 percent in 2017 and still offers 0.00 percent as CoLA for Government employees.'
SNAT also criticised The E2.98 billion allocated in the budget for the army, police and prison services. These security forces in the past have attacked workers on legal demonstrations.
In September 2018 the Swazi Police were criticised by human rights groups when they attacked workers led by the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) who were demonstrating in Manzini for CoLA, a national minimum wage of E3,500 (US$ 234.27) a month, and an increase in elderly grants (pensions) to E1,500. Police used teargas and stun-grenades.
Videos and photographs of brutal police attacks were uploaded on social media.
Swaziland Human Rights Network UK in a statement at the time said, 'The violent attack on peacefully demonstrating TUCOSWA members is reprehensible as it was a violation of their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and expression.'
It added, 'The eSwatini government has turned the country into a violent police state where the security services have been turned into tools of suppression to protect the interests of not just the government but the regime of King Mswati III.'
SNAT said in its statement following the budget speech, 'This means labour unions and other civil society organisations shall be silenced, violently so and no voices of dissent will be allowed. Citizens must keep quiet, toe the line and that equals to peace, money has been set aside to procure guns and all sorts of artillery for that exercise. This is what dictatorships are known for, world over.'