Swaziland’s 35 000 civil servants may not be paid this month

2011-11-09 14:33

Mbabane – Cash-strapped Swaziland will struggle to pay civil servants’ salaries this month, Finance Minister Majozi Sithole told AFP today, as the tiny kingdom slips deeper into crisis.

“We will do our best to pay at the end of November, but it is difficult. We have serious fiscal challenges right now,” Sithole said.

Swaziland fell into crisis after losing 60% of its revenue from a regional customs union last year, and has so far refused to take steps to rein in its spending.

The government wants to cut salaries for civil servants, who have taken to the streets in response, stoking anger at the lavish lifestyle of King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The government had been paying civil servants by tapping its foreign reserves, which have fallen so low that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned of risks to the local emalangeni currency, which is pegged to South Africa’s rand.

Now Swaziland is paying its bills only through tax collection, which Sithole said would not generate enough money to pay the salaries for the kingdom’s 35 000 civil servants.

“The revenue we are able to collect is not sufficient to cover our expenses,” said Sithole.

Unions say they will continue to oppose salary cuts, lashing out at the IMF for not taking them seriously.

“We say put pressure on government to stop projects that are wasting money. They say the only way out is to cut salaries and we don’t agree. They are taking the easy route,” said Vincent Dlamini, secretary-general of public servants’ union.

Faced with union-led street demonstrations, Mswati said in August that he was against salary cuts, leaving his government with few options.

“There is no way around reducing the wage bill,” Sithole insisted. Swaziland’s failure to make economic reforms has left it unable to win international loans.

South Africa has offered a R2.4 billion bailout, but Swaziland has yet to sign on to the deal, which requires political and economic reforms.

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