Members of Parliament in Swaziland have sent the national budget back to be reviewed because they say it does not meet the needs of poor people and rural communities.
The budget announced on Thursday (1 March 2018) included an increase in Value Added Tax by 1 percent to 15 percent and a review to impose VAT on electricity prices for the first time. Electricity tariffs are already due to increase by 15 percent on 1 April 2018.
MPs also said that the budget did not adequately finance Micro Projects and the Regional Development Fund (RDF).
The Swazi Observer reported on Tuesday (6 March 2018), ‘The legislators agreed that the Minister of Finance should go back and review the budget together with the House of Assembly Finance Sessional Committee and the House of Assembly Finance Portfolio Committee. The reviewed budget is expected to be tabled by the minister tomorrow in the House of Assembly.’
The call for review is not unusual in Swaziland. Last year members of the House of Assembly initially rejected the budget, but then Swaziland’s unelected Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini forced them to overturn their decision.
He also forced them to abandon a debate on the contents of the budget in the House of Assembly and instead move discussions straight to committee sittings.
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the Prime Minister and senior ministers are selected by the King.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported at the time that the Prime Minister ‘minced no words’ then he told Parliament ‘that nothing would be changed in the budget’.
The newspaper, described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a report on media freedom in the kingdom, as a ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’ reported the MPs ‘came back to their senses’ and allowed passage to the Budget Bill.
There are ongoing concerns about the ways national budgets are made in Swaziland. In a review of the 2016 Swaziland budget, the US State Department found details were missing about how money given to the Royal Family was spent. Also hidden was detailed information about spending on the military, police and correctional services.
The United States undertakes annual reports on ‘fiscal transparency’ of governments that receive US assistance to ‘help ensure US taxpayer money is used appropriately’.
In 2017, Swaziland scored only three points out of 100 in a global review of its budget in the Transparency Open Budget Survey produced by the International Budget Partnership (IBP).
While Swaziland scored three points, neighbouring South Africa scored 89. In an 80-page report IBP revealed that the Swaziland legislature provides weak oversight of the budget.
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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