Monday, October 17, 2011

Shameful neglect of the poor


Mbabane — Swaziland's parliamentarians are questioning the purpose of a social safety net covering children, the elderly and the disabled. One dismissed it as little more than a public relations exercise, but in the teetering economy the recipients often depend on these small grants and pensions for survival.

"Why do we continue with this assistance [to orphans and vulnerable children, (OVC), pensions and school fees for primary school students]? It seems as if we are trying to impress some people here," said parliamentarian Patrick Gamedze in the assembly on 13 October. His colleague, Nichodemus Mashwama, also called for an end to government payments for primary school students, although this is stipulated in the constitution.

Other MPs backed Mashwama's call for a constitutional amendment to abolish government payments aimed at achieving universal primary education. Some questioned why MPs should be held accountable for school fees, old age and disability pensions, and grants for OVC when government had no money to pay for them.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Swaziland: Mswati Back in Pretoria - for a No-Strings Bailout

Swaziland's absolute ruler Mswati III was back in South Africa this week to try to persuade Pretoria to proceed with the R2,4-billion (USUS$307-million) loan promised to his cash-strapped regime, but minus the terms and conditions on democratic change.

His clampdown on the Swazi pro-democracy movement has been intensifying since the week of exuberant anti-government protests in early September, closely mirroring Mswati's growing reluctance to entertain even the vaguely worded democratic reforms required by South Africa as its condition for granting the loan.

Mswati has balked at signing the memorandum of understanding attached to the loan. The MoU closely follows the 3 August 2011 statement by South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, reinforcing its prescriptions on fiscal reform (Vol 29 No 21). Its stipulations on democratic change are fluffy by comparison, with no mention of the sorts of proactive steps Mbabane should take to move towards democracy, such as unbanning political parties.

Instead the MoU reiterates Gordhan's call for "broadening the dialogue process to include all stakeholders" and his description of the role of the Joint Bilateral Commission on Cooperation, which would meet a few times a year to oversee adherence to the loan conditions. Mswati has rejected both requirements.

The MoU remains unsigned. South Africa has consequently not paid the first of the three tranches of the loan, originally envisaged for the end of August.

From Read more here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Corruption Exceeds Social Services Budget


Mbabane — Swaziland's Minister of Finance, Majozi Sithole, has told the Senate that each year the country loses nearly double the annual social services budget to corruption, and non-governmental organizations are not being spared.

"Because of these practices service delivery has suffered," Sithole told the upper house, composed mostly of appointees of King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, on 10 October 2011.

The donor-dependent country sandwiched between Mozambique and South Africa is on the brink of insolvency and its financial crisis means that social services from schooling to pensions have either been discontinued or severely disrupted.

Sithole estimated that about R80 million (US$10.6 million) a month was disappearing - amounting to about R960 million (US$128 million) annually - while the government's 2010/11 budget allocated R562 million (US$75 million) to social services, including R182 million (US$24.2 million) for education and R252 million (US$33.6 million) for health.

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