An entire town in Swaziland is suffering a month-long power cut because the government has not paid its electricity bill.
As the blackout continues news is emerging that the Swazi Government is no longer able to pay suppliers and is issuing IOU notes. All new capital spending is reportedly on hold.
The town of Vuvulane has been without power for a month so far, according to the Observer on Saturday newspaper in Swaziland. It reported (2 June 2018) that the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development was responsible for paying the bills. It said Vuvulane Town Council said it had paid the E10,000 a month for electricity supplies but the electricity was no longer supplied. Tenants of the Town Council are angry because the electricity charge is included in rents they pay.
Meanwhile, it was reported that government was issuing IOU notes promising future payment of debts to suppliers. In his budget speech on 1 March 2018 Finance Minister Martin Dlamini reported the Swazi Government owed suppliers E3.1 billion (US$243 million), but according to the Sunday Observer (3 June 2018) he refuted earlier reports this had increased to E5 billion and said the debt had been reduced to E2.2 billion.
The newspaper also quoted unnamed officials at the Ministry of Economic Planning saying that all new capital spending in the kingdom ruled by King Mawati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch had been ‘put in limbo’. This included projects where tenders had been awarded.
It reported an employee saying ‘The only tender projects we are involved in are those which are ongoing.’ It added, ‘Their understanding was to the effect that there would be absolutely no funding for anything in the short term.
‘They said they were informed of this decision following the weekly principal secretaries’ meeting which is held every Wednesday following cabinet’s Tuesday meetings. The mitigation measure comes at a time when government is trying to find means of coming out of a financial crisis which has seen it fail to pay some of its obligations on time.’
Finance Minister Martin Dlamini denied the report and said no decision had yet been made.
The spotlight on spending in Swaziland intensified when in April 2018 at a party to mark both his 50th birthday and the anniversary of Swaziland’s Independence from Great Britain, King Mswati wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit weighing 6 kg studded with diamonds. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.
Meanwhile, seven in ten of the 1.1 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.
Children in Swaziland have been told by teachers to prepare themselves for starvation as the government failed to deliver free food to schools over the past year. At the heart of the crisis is the Swazi Government’s inability to pay its suppliers. As a result of unpaid bills, suppliers have stopped delivering food, and medicines. Electricity supplies to government offices, law courts, police stations, libraries, media houses, and border posts have been cut.
In 2017, the global charity Oxfam named Swaziland as the most unequal country in the world in a report called Starting With People, a human economy approach to inclusive growth in Africa that detailed the differences in countries between the top most earners and those at the bottom.
Swaziland is not a democracy even though national elections are due to take place later this year.
Political parties are banned from contesting elections and groups advocating for democracy are banned as ‘terrorists’ under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Media are severely censored and freedom of assembly is curtailed. Elections are held every five years in Swaziland but people only get to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chooses the other 10. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King chooses 20 and the other 10 are elected by members of the House of Assembly.
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