Swaziland /eSwatini should open up its national budget for greater scrutiny. It is not always clear how money is allocated, the latest review of ‘fiscal transparency’ in the kingdom, published by the United States Government reveals.
It says not all of the budget is subjected to audit and oversight. Spending by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch, and his royal family should be scrutinised.
The U.S. Department of State 2018 Fiscal Transparency Report reviewed the year 2017. It said that while budget documents ‘provided a general picture of government revenues and expenditures, revenues from natural resources and land leases were not included in the budget. Expenditures to support the royal family were included in the budget but lacked specific detail and were not subject to the same oversight as the rest of the budget.’
It added, ‘Information in the budget was considered generally reliable.’
In Swaziland King Mswati controls natural mineral rights. He holds 25 percent of mining royalties ‘in trust’ for the Swazi Nation. The government also takes 25 percent. The Fiscal Transparency Report stated, ‘Criteria and procedures for awarding natural resource extraction licenses and contracts were outlined in law, but the opacity [lack of clarity] of the procedures, which involve submitting applications for licenses directly to the King, cast doubt on whether the government actually followed the law in practice.
‘Basic information on natural resource extraction awards was not always publicly available.
‘eSwatini’s fiscal transparency would be improved by providing more detail on expenditures and revenues in the budget, particularly for off-budget accounts, natural resource revenues, land leases, and royal family expenditures; subjecting the entire budget to audit and oversight; demonstrating applicable laws are followed in practice for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and licenses; and making basic information on natural resource extraction awards publicly available.’
The United States releases annual reports on fiscal transparency for countries that receive U.S. assistance to ‘help ensure U.S. taxpayer money is used appropriately’. It said Swaziland had shown no improvement in fiscal transparency since the last report in 2017.
The United States is not alone in expressing concerns about the lack of information on Swaziland’s national budget.
In 2017 Swaziland received a score of three out of a possible total 100 for budget openness. It received zero points in a section on public participation as there were no opportunities for the public to engage in budget processes. The Transparency Open Budget Survey was produced by the International Budget Partnership (IBP). The 2017 report is the most recent available.
In an 80-page report IBP revealed that the Swaziland members of parliament provided weak oversight of the budget. In Swaziland political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the Prime Minister, Cabinet and top judges and public servants are all chosen by the King.
IBP said the Swazi parliament was unable to discuss the budget properly because it was not provided with sufficient information. It said the government’s budget proposal should be available two months before the start of the budget year.
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