In his budget speech Neal Rijkenberg the Finance Minister of Swaziland / eSwatini stated that public service salaries had risen by 125 percent in the past 10 years and he threatened to cut the kingdom's wage bill. He said the kingdom could not afford to pay cost of living salary adjustments (CoLA).
Now, the Swaziland Auditor General (AG) Timothy Matsebula in his annual report has revealed that the government has no clear idea how much money it is legitimately paying out in salaries. Matsebula reported in the year ending March 2018 the government overpaid its workers by E6.2 million and a further E1.9 million was paid to 'ghost employees' - that is workers who do not exist.
He also said that it was impossible to tell how many ghost workers there were in schools across Swaziland.
The AG reported the overpayments were made across a number of government departments.
The AG stated there was a total loss from public servants of E3.44 million and E15.74 million in the financial years 2017 and 2018 respectively. The figure for 2018 included more than E6 million in unrecovered loans made to civil servants.
The AG stated, 'These include salary payment of "ghost employees", overpayment of salaries, non-staggering of salaries for employees on long-term study leave, unrecovered reimbursement of salary and training costs from officers who have abandoned official training, and unrecovered loans. The salary payment of "ghost employees" comprises of payment of salaries for people who have resigned or exited the public service, employees who have not been reporting for work and/or employees who were suspended for a lengthy period.'
The AG said financial controls were 'weak' and risked 'embezzlement and fraud'. He added, 'ghost-employees or fictitious employees are included in the payroll system and continue being paid for an extended period of time until they are uncovered or may remain uncovered until retirement age'.
The AG also reported that at schools across Swaziland teachers were not regularly signing registers when collecting their salary advice slips and 'this poses a risk as it makes it hard to see the presence of "ghost" employee(s)'. This means the number of ghost workers in Swaziland is not known.
This chaos in government is going on at the same time that Finance Minister is threatening to cut the public sector salary bill. In his budget speech in February 2019 Finance Minister Rijkenberg 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.'
He added, '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).
Rijkenberg made his bold statement without knowing what the true public sector wage bill is in Swaziland.
AG Matsebula also reported the Swaziland Government finances were in such a mess that billions of emalangeni could not be accounted for. Government bank balances had been misstated by E1.3 billion. The amount of revenue collected in the kingdom was misstated by E1.35 billion. The amount of income tax and road toll collected was understated by E1.34 billion.
The amount of government financial liabilities was misstated by E13 billion. He stated this could be down to fraud or error.
The AG report is revealing the truth in Swaziland where King Mswati III rules as an absolute monarch and appoints members of the government and top public servants and where political parties are banned from taking part in elections. The kingdom is in chaos and nobody knows where the money is going.
Public sector workers should not be blamed for the crisis.