Swaziland acts on desperate crises

2011-04-09 15:24

A major security crackdown on any attempt to spark an Egypt-style uprising and desperate measures to arrest rapid economic decline are being put in place in Swaziland.

The government has now effectively handed over control of the country’s public finances to the ­International Monetary Fund (IMF) and it has banned marches and all forms of protest planned for ­Tuesday against the state of emergency in place since April 12 1973.

Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini has declared the protest illegal, saying that prescribed procedures have not been followed by its organisers. He warned that “all security forces will be ­released to maintain peace”.

An escalation in the tightening of security is ­evident. Police checkpoints have been set up on major roads to the twin cities of Mbabane and Manzini and at points of entry to the country.

Political activists and trade unions have vowed that the “now or never” protest action will go ahead.

In South Africa they are backed by labour federation Cosatu, the ANC Youth League and the Young Communist League of the SACP, who intend to stage a sympathy protest on Tuesday at the Oshoek ­border post.

“The Swazi government finds itself today in most unfamiliar territory. The Swazi people have the king’s testicles in their hands.

“It is entirely up to them to decide what to do with him. He is currently in hiding somewhere, literally sweating in panic,” said the Swaziland Solidarity ­Network, which is based in Johannesburg.

On Friday Swaziland announced it had asked the IMF to introduce a staff-monitored programme to help fiscal adjustment and safeguard pro-poor spending in the country.

IMF staff will effectively vet government spending for the next six months in an effort to ward off a major fiscal crisis.

“Swaziland is facing a serious fiscal crisis, with an overall budget deficit estimated at about 13% of GDP for the 2010/11 fiscal year ending March 31, 2011. The crisis came from structural imbalances in government expenditure and revenue,” the IMF said in a statement.

Swaziland’s liquidity crisis could quickly turn into a solvency crisis if not addressed upfront, as the fiscal adjustment would take time to lead to a more balanced fiscal position, which implied a growing debt-to-GDP ratio over the coming years, the IMF said.

Swaziland has the second-largest wage bill in sub-Saharan Africa, at about 18% of GDP. The IMF says weaknesses in the budget process have led to off-budget expenditures subsequently ­regularised by supplementary budgets.

The strike and intended mass action on Tuesday are also against government attempts to cut salaries by between 4% and 10% and freeze state jobs in a country that has the second most bloated civil service in sub-Saharan Africa.

» De Klerk can teach Swazi king ... See Page 27 

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