Tuesday, June 26, 2018


The Government in Swaziland / Eswatini has failed to pay primary school fees for grade one pupils leading to chaos across the kingdom.
The European Union (EU) pays the government the fees but they have not been passed on to the schools, the Observer on Saturday newspaper in Swaziland reported (23 June 2018). The second term of the school year is just coming to an end.

The Swaziland Constitution requires that all primary school children receive free education.

The Observer reported headteachers and principals across Swaziland said they were in huge debts and unable to pay suppliers. It said the problem was with the government which faced financial challenges. It reported one school principal saying education in the kingdom would continue to deteriorate if the situation did not improve. Teacher morale is low. Because of a lack of government funding children are going without free meals at school and this is often the only meal they get.

Schools across Swaziland have been in chaos since at least the start the year. High schools as well as primaries have been affected. Children were turned away from high schools because there were no spaces for them in classes. This was because the kingdom has in recent years introduced free primary school education. Now children have graduated there are not enough places in secondary schools. Parents were reported by local media to be walking from school to school in unsuccessful attempts to get their children placed.

In January 2018 the Ministry of Education refused to pay school fees to about half the 650 primary schools in Swaziland because pupils did not have personal identification numbers (PINs). The Ministry said to avoid audit queries it had to pay fees against a PIN not a name of a pupil.
Parents are also outraged that some primary schools are charging top-up fees when the Swazi Constitution and Government policy says primary education should be free. 

Swaziland, is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King appoints the Prime Minister and top ministers. Seven in ten of the estimated 1.1 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 per day. 

The kingdom’s economy has been mismanaged for decades. Swaziland cannot afford to pay for its free primary education policy. Government pays E580 per child, but this is heavily subsidised by the European Union (EU). Up to December 2016, the EU had spent a total amount of E110 million (about US$8 million). In 2015, it reportedly sponsored 34,012 learners in 591 schools. The EU plans to continue paying for the school fees until the end of 2018. The EU started funding all first grade pupils in the whole country in 2011. 

The problem does not end at primary level. An investigation by the Swazi Observer (27 January 2018) revealed that some high schools charged nearly E9,000 per child per year in top-up fees. It also found (1 February 2018) that some schools were not allowing children, including OVCs (orphaned and vulnerable children) to attend classes until deposits on fees were paid.

The Ministry of Education then announced that no school in Swaziland had been given permission to charge top-up fees because none had made the necessary formal request to do so. Permission can take up to a year.

The Swaziland national budget has been mismanaged for years. Swaziland is broke and the government is living from hand to mouth. Earlier this month Finance Minister Martin Dlamini told the House of Assembly as of 31 March 2018 government owed E3.28 billion. Dlamini said budget projections indicated ‘exponential growth in the arrears’. 

Despite the funding crisis, the Swazi Government still found US$30 million to buy the King a second private plane. It has also earmarked E1.5bn (US$125m) this year to build a conference centre and five-star hotel to host the African Union summit in 2020 that will last only eight days and it has budgeted E5.5 million to build Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini a retirement house. There are also plans for a new parliament building that will cost E2.3 billion.

The excessive lifestyle of King Mswati has also been under the spotlight. He now has two private planes, 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range BMW and Mercedes cars.

He wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with gold weighing 6 kg, at his 50th birthday party. He received E15 million (US$1.2 million) in cheques, a gold dining room suite and a gold lounge suite among his birthday gifts.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program has said it cannot raise the US$1.1 million it needs to feed starving children in the kingdom in the coming six months.

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