We are en­ter­ing a de­ci­sive stage where we either cor­rect the mis­takes of the cur­rent govern­ment, and put the coun­try back on the path to­wards achiev­ing its goals or we for­get about the vi­sion at all.

Observer on Saturday - - Analysis & Opinion -

In our last ar­ti­cle, we looked at the econ­omy and re­flected a lot from the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy (NDS) which is our ba­sis for vi­sion 2022.

Read­ing the NDS one can tell that based on what we have ar­tic­u­lated un­der the Macroe­co­nomic Man­age­ment strat­egy, we still have a lot to do.

A lot of what we had in­tended to do is al­ready avail­able in black and white, it is just our con­sis­tency in im­ple­ment­ing the plan that is lack­ing.

To­day I would like us to tackle those is­sues that are still miss­ing that we need to ad­dress as a coun­try.

Po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, it is good that we en­gage in this dis­cus­sion when the term of the cur­rent govern­ment will be up within the next 12 months.

It leaves us with four years to­wards our tar­get of at­tain­ing a first world sta­tus by the year 2022.

In a pe­riod where un­em­ploy­ment amongst the youth is high, poverty lev­els are above 60 per cent and govern­ment’s fi­nan­cial po­si­tion weak, such does not au­gur well for a coun­try with an am­bi­tious vi­sion.

We are en­ter­ing a de­ci­sive stage where we either cor­rect the mis­takes of the cur­rent govern­ment, and put the coun­try back on the path to­wards achiev­ing its goals or we for­get about the vi­sion at all.

We hope for the for­mer. The cur­rent govern­ment has failed to keep its eye on the ball and al­lowed it­self to be swayed by short term de­vel­op­ments.

Any ef­fort to grow the econ­omy has never been sus­tained as it flip-flopped with poli­cies that en­sured fis­cal pru­dence dur­ing hard times and ex­trav­a­gant ex­pen­di­tures just when the econ­omy showed lit­tle signs of re­cov­ery.

Be­tween the pe­ri­ods 2011-2012 govern­ment in­tro­duced an IMF spon­sored Fi­nan­cial Ad­just­ment Roadmap (FAR) pro­gramme as a re­sult of se­vere de­clines in SACU rev­enues. One of the ma­jor and nec­es­sary but un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions it took was to cut politi­cians salar­ies by 10 per cent.

The idea was to en­gage the pub­lic sec­tor as well to do the same, but for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons labour did not join the party.

That was a govern­ment show­ing lead­er­ship and con­cerned that it can­not al­low it­self to con­tinue to draw hefty salar­ies when the coun­try was eco­nom­i­cally on its knees.

But this po­si­tion was not sus­tained long enough for the coun­try to do a full re­cov­ery, as in 2013, be­fore the then govern­ment was dis­solved, politi­cians de­cided to re­fund them­selves.

As that was not enough, in 2015 govern­ment em­barked on a re­view of pub­lic ser­vants salar­ies and ex­er­cise that ended up ben­e­fit­ing every­one, to­tally de­plet­ing the scare re­sources the coun­try has.

This de­ci­sion has not been good for the coun­try’s econ­omy be­cause we have al­most dou­bled our re­cur­rent bud­get at the ex­pense of rein­vest­ing it to projects that would cre­ate jobs or make investments in ed­u­ca­tion and health.

The large num­ber of projects that are cur­rently be­ing im­ple­mented are run through in­ter­na­tional loans which have in­creased the coun­try’s debt and fur­ther in­creased our do­mes­tic debt to al­most 20 per cent.

One of the key de­ci­sions that the new govern­ment will need to deal with is that of hav­ing 20 min­istries. We know that this is the prerog­a­tive of the Head of State in con­sul­ta­tion with the prime min­is­ter, but it will do us a lot of good to down­size the num­ber of min­istries and col­lapse cer­tain func­tions.

Com­mi­sion

For in­stance, the min­istry of eco­nomic plan­ning should be re­duced into some plan­ning com­mis­sion within trea­sury, whilst the min­istry of sports should go back to the min­istry of in­te­rior.

We are a small coun­try with about 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple, 20 min­istries is just too big. Rather have deputy min­is­ters if we feel the work will be too much for each min­is­ter to han­dle.

Not only do we have too many min­istries, but we have as well many pub­lic en­ter­prises. What we need to do is to pri­va­tise those that can sur­vive on their own with­out govern­ment’s sup­port.

It doesn’t help us to mourn about those that con­tinue to drain govern­ment con­fers with­out deal­ing with the is­sue head on. Fi­nance Min­is­ter Martin Dlamini in­ti­mated in his bud­get speech about the need to do some se­ri­ous in­tro­spec­tion and off­load some of these in­sti­tu­tions.

If we fol­low the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy doc­u­ment, we would know ex­actly how to dis­pose of them.

In fact, the pri­vati­sa­tion pol­icy also out­lines how these would be done. Pri­vatis­ing some pub­lic en­ter­prises would give Swazis a chance to be play­ers in the econ­omy by buy­ing some stake in these through lo­cal con­sor­tiums.

Busi­ness

The other point that govern­ment would need to quickly deal with is that it does not have the ca­pac­ity to be in busi­ness. Busi­ness should be left to busi­ness and what it needs to do is to cre­ate a con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment for busi­nesses to thrive.

So long as our politi­cians think of them­selves as busi­ness­men, we will never get our econ­omy right. These are re­flect­ing in a num­ber of projects that we have es­tab­lished.

Their sus­tain­abil­ity is sus­pect and what was a good ini­tia­tive ends up be­ing la­belled as a white ele­phant or van­ity project.

His Majesty King Mswati III is a vi­sion­ary and a lot of the projects he has ini­ti­ated are good for the coun­try, but clearly govern­ment doesn’t have the ca­pac­ity nor the re­sources to make turn those projects into prof­itable en­ti­ties. We are now go­ing for the third year since the King Mswati III In­ter­na­tional Air­port was com­mis­sioned and to date, we have failed to at­tract a sin­gle in­ter­na­tional or re­gional air­line to it. That says a lot about the ca­pac­ity of our pub­lic en­ter­prises to talk the busi­ness lan­guage.

We will need to con­tinue to in­vest on projects that seek to de­velop the coun­try, but we must have in mind the part­ners who will run with it once com­pleted.

The Royal Science and Tech­nol­ogy Park is an­other bril­liant project which must de­liver to its ex­pected level. It should not be com­pro­mised by our in­ef­fi­cien­cies and lack of re­sources to sus­tain such a grand project.

We ac­cept the chal­lenges we face, but govern­ment need to ap­pre­ci­ate that – alone, it has all the an­swers to the coun­try’s prob­lems. All it needs to do is gal­vanise the cit­i­zenry to be ac­tive play­ers.

The whole idea of giv­ing money to peo­ple with the hope they will be­come suc­cess­ful busi­ness­peo­ple needs to be re­viewed. Busi­ness is meant for those who are se­ri­ous about it, not peo­ple look­ing for hand­outs. Un­less we are clear on what we want to sell to the global mar­ket, we will con­tinue to be dump­ing ground of those who are cre­ative and de­cide for us what we want need to con­sume.

It’s time we take charge of the eco­nomic space and in­ter­act with the world in a lan­guage that it un­der­stands.

It will have to start at the top.

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