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Insight: Our country is now a failed state

The cut in Sacu revenues really put the spanner in the works for Swaziland, not just economically but also politically. Our dire financial position has exposed the fact that we do not have any systems in place for self sustenance. There is simply no space for growth whatsoever. Even though King Mswati is trying to rally us into working towards our economic recovery, the present political
climate just does not allow for it.
Pic of His Majesty the King of our country arriving for the opening of ParliamentBHEKI MAKHUBU reports.

King Mswati III backed down on his call for Swazis to reach First World status as he came to terms with the economic realities facing , 25 years into his reign as the monarch. Opening parliament last month, the King instead called on parliament and the country’s workforce to put more effort in turning our economy around, saying: “As the nation is talking about the Silver Jubilee, it is imperative that we should be able to show the milestones that the country has attained.”

It is most unfortunate, in fact, downright embarrassing that in this milestone year of King Mswati’s reign this country is now a basket case.

King Mswati was at pains when opening parliament to call upon parliamentarians to “hold candid, pragmatic and construc tive consultations with chiefs and their respective communities in order to find ways of addressing our present predica ment.” To workers, the King said: “I call upon the nation to work harder and harder if we are to contribute to the economic development of our country. Each one of us should put in an extra effort so that we can double our national output. “In challenging times like these, our workforce should develop a new work ethic and mindset that of not being driven by the clock but the amount of work that needs to be done.”

While the King’s call to workers and parliamentarians to up the ante in their contribution towards our economic development is all very well, His Majesty unfortunately fell short of addressing the primary root cause of all this evil we find ourselves in. It is not the failure of workers and parliamentarians that has got us where we are. It is the failure of government in leadership to run this country in a proper manner that has turned us into a non functional state.

In his speech last year when opening the same parliament, King Mswati was bubbling with ideas on how this country needed to move to First World status. Then, he called on for fresh ideas to diversify the economy. He spoke of hard work, determination and, most importantly, creative thinking in a bid to make this country move forward.

Now that the King has put the challenge to all of us, we need to ask ourselves why we have failed in all these initiatives. Swaziland is replete with educated people. Many in our society have MBAs; hold PhDs and scores of others are naturally intelligent and creative. King Mswati repeated the need for creative thinking when he spoke last month. He said: “We have two choices: We can either wallow in a sense of despair and hope for a stroke of a miracle to bail us out, or we can change our attitudes, think creatively, work hard, unite and make sacrifices to tackle these challenges head on.”

What is most unfortunate about the King’s speech is that it does not recognize that Swaziland’s politics is not geared towards a people-friendly initiative that gives space for parliamentarians and workers to contribute to the revival of this country. Parliamentarians are simply paper pushers who legitimize what the leadership seeks to achieve. Workers and ordinary folks simply do as they are told, no questions asked. They are automatons.

The concept of Tinkhundla, while said to seek development and improvement of our way of life by tapping from grassroots input and support, does not, unfortunately do that and it never has. It has always been a tool used by those who run the country to defend their positions because they do not have the necessary popular support that is otherwise imperative if King Mswati’s call for mass participation in rebuilding this country is to have any meaningful significance. What King Mswati now needs to ponder on is whether the leadership in government he has put in place has the capacity to rally us all into this important national drive. 

Pic of Princes await arrival of HM the King

It is now common knowledge that the criterion for filling executive positions in some of the in stitutions that could help turn this country around is not necessarily competence to deliver but rather it is about loyalty not only to a political system whose definition still escapes its most loyal acolytes, but also about wetting the beaks of individuals who happen to be in positions of leadership at a particular time.

Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, in all the time he has had the honour of running this country’s govern ment has managed to turn into a fine art the system of patronage, sycophancy, bootlicking and blind loyalty. The record shows that he will not accept anyone to an important position in this country, whatever the qualifications, without a guarantee of absolute loyalty to what he believes in, whatever the cost.

Mbabane, the country’s capital city has turned into a slum be cause of this thinking.

On the 25th year of King Mswati’s reign, Swaziland’s first city is overrun by pot holes the size of open graves because for a long time the Municipal Council of Mbabane did not have a CEO. Why? Because Lindiwe Dlamini, the premier’s hand chosen Minister for Housing and Urban Development who can’t even take care of her personal affairs, was trying to find the most loyal person to run the city without any interest in the most competent people who applied for the position. The result is that some of Mbabane’s most exclusive suburbs like Beverley Hills, Dalriach and Thembelihle are well below the scale when compared to Msunduza Location when it comes to the state of the roads.

Development has stalled in our capital city so that this engine room of our economy is slowly turning into an ancient relic. With Ezulwini, down Malagwane Hill, growing at the rate it is, it is only a matter of time before Mbabane becomes a ghost city as more and more businesses and private individuals choose the valley of heaven as their preference for humble abode.

Swaziland is a country suffering from arrested development. Big business, which is the only means by which we could get our economy out of this slump, is also abandoning us. The closure of Sappi Usutu in Bhunya and Peak Timbers in Pigg’s Peak cannot be solely ascribed to a slow economy. In his speech last year, King Ms wati said: “The nation is equally concerned about the closure of some companies in the country. “Government will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds with a view to finding lasting solutions.”

Government, which King Mswati puts much faith in, has never clearly stated why these companies are leaving; or whether there were alternatives available to avoid such closures and what has been done to avoid the closures. Instead we have seen politicians like Jabu Mashwama go on diet and seek our sympathy when they claim to have lost weight because of the pressures and stress associated with handling such big problems. Unfortunately we have a leadership that is incapable of thinking, one that freezes its thought process when confronted with problems.

Picture of Her Majesty the Queen Mother atop a throneSaid King Mswati in 2010: “We shall also ensure that our people are fully equipped with knowledge and skills to be competitive entrepreneurs.” Again, the question has to be asked of whether the present leadership in govern ment is the right one to allow for such growth. As things stand right now, Swaziland Television, a loss making entity since inception does not have a CEO. The story is told that those who applied when the post was advertised at the end of last year and were recommended for the position have been over looked despite their exception al qualifications in the world of television and electronic media production. Minister for Information, Communication and Technology, Nelisiwe Shongwe  - the country’s biggest embarrassment at ministerial level since independence - wants to appoint a man who has no idea where the button to switch on a television camera is.

This man never even applied for the job when it was advertised. She wants him for the job only because his loyalty to our leadership is assured. Why they would not hire a television specialist, someone who can be held accountable if told to turn the station around in, say, three to five years, and remove the burden on government pumping money into the station every year, boggles the mind. But, that is the Tinkhundla system at work. A political environment that rewards sycophancy and bootlicking over and above competence can never, ever create economic growth for the simple reason that creativity, which King Mswati is now demanding, only comes from those with the freedom to think.

Working this out is not rocket science, but for some strange reason, it escapes Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini’s leadership. King Mswati recognizes the SME sector as the most important vehicle for stimu lating the economy. “This sector is the engine room for growth and government is committed to continue improving it.” Unfortunately this commitment by government is not visible to the naked eye. A government that rules by fear and intimidation cannot encourage SME develop ment because a mind cannot function in an environment of uncertainty.

Said King Mswati: “We call upon entrepreneurs to come up with bankable projects so that they could get the required finance.” Not very long ago, the King launched a E10m youth development drive for business housed under the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. The Minister there, Hlobisile Ndlovu, filled the board entrusted with the responsibility to assess business projects from the youth and distribute the money with her friends. To this day, not a single viable project is known to have come out of this initiative.

While the monarch said: “There is no doubt that the expansion of business is the universal remedy for creating jobs, wealth and also improving the standard of living for all our people”, there is nothing to suggest that government has ever tried to promote this culture among Swazis. Instead, we have seen a systematic clampdown of this much needed creativity by our government which always frustrates efforts to allow a free-thinking citizenry of this country to flourish.

Corruption, particularly in the tendering process, is one of the biggest causes for concern in this country. For many years, Minister for Finance, Majozi Sithole warned us all that corruption in government was draining the econ omy, costing the state E80m a month. Those who could have helped him stem this problem did not believe him and ten derpreneurs had a field day looting gov ernment at will while some civil servants, complicit in the scams also swelled their bank accounts.

Then Prime Minister A.T. Dlamini dismissed the whole issue by stating that corruption was a two-way street. He said where there was a corruptor, there was the corrupted. He left it at that.

In his speech last year to parliament, King Mswati spoke strongly against corruption, stating: “This is one leaking tap that must be closed without delay.” This year, the monarch’s words were much stronger. He thundered: “Companies must be held accountable to their tender agreements and all future projects should stick within their tender prices. “We need to improve our monitoring and implementation of government projects, if we are to improve our country.” Aside from very poor leadership and an arrogant attitude towards the citizenry by those entrusted the responsibility to ensure our welfare, the cut in Sacu receipts is the major reason we are now a banana state.

When he opened parliament last year, King Mswati said: “A decline in our receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) pool, (is) something that is also a great cause for concern.

“As government we will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds using all available channels to find out what exactly happened.

“As it were, the original projections were impressive, but what we eventually received was far below our expectations.”

Last year, Sacu receipts dropped from close to E6bn to a disappointing E2bn. Sacu receipts account for more than 60% of government revenue. Members of Sacu are currently working on a new revenue sharing formula to be discussed in April when the Australian company that was awarded the tender to conduct a study on the best way to share the revenue presents its final report.

It is a meeting King Mswati can’t wait for. When opening parliament he said: “The nation is looking forward to the forth-coming heads of state Sacu Summit with keen interest.

“We hope the summit will come up with a lasting solution to the Sacu sharing formula that will be accessed by all member states.”

It is obvious to anyone that Swaziland can never survive and claim its sovereignty without the Sacu receipts. As a country, we have always believed that this money was a right, which explains why our leaders were so upset when the money was cut so drastically last year, the first time since its inception just over 100 years ago. While the Sacu member countries work out a new formula for revenue sharing, there is reason to inquire how this whole idea came about.

While today we may look at it as a right we cannot be denied, it is no exaggeration, though, to say that it was a scheme hatched all those years ago by a white supremacist South Africa as a bribe, meant to sustain colonialism and racism at the time and became more important with the advent of full-blown apartheid in 1948 when the Afrikaner nationalists took over power in that country.

South Africa’s history is defined by a white dominant class that always wanted to keep the black race out of its affairs in the republic. One of the ways they sought to achieve this was by keeping the black people in the areas where they were domiciled limiting the influx of people into their industrial areas like Johannesburg which at tracted every manner of people after gold was discovered there in the 1800s.

Throughout the years of racial segregation in South Africa, the white minority successive governments were more than willing to give money to those small states like Swaziland to develop them so that their people had no need to move. Anyone who understands why bantustans like Ciskei and Bophuthatswana came into being will know that Swaziland was also part of this grand plan of separate development based on racial lines.

In today’s world where racial segregation has been wiped out, there is no need to bribe countries like ours to stay away from the affairs of South Africa. Justification for paying us this money is no longer there.

When Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini returned from the African Union meeting last month, he said Swaziland was doing everything it could to get the letter of comfort from the IMF so that the government could get the loan from the African Development Bank. If this fails, he said, then the country’s economic problems will continue. It is very instructive to note that King Mswati did not say anything about the Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap that was put together by the government and IMF in a restructuring adjustment programme last year.

Neither did the King talk about the money the prime minister expects from the ADB. Does this mean the monarch has not bought into this idea? Indeed, a loan is not the solution to our problems. In the short term it might make us liquid financially but will not help as the years go by.

What we need is a viable plan that will move this country away from being an economic backwater. King Mswati III needs to ask himself whether Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini is the kind of man who has the vision and crea tivity to get us out of this mess.

We lesser mortals don’t think so.

But then, who cares what we think?

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