Friday, July 31, 2020

Swaziland elections watchdog calls for widescale investigation into allegation of vote buying in Senate

An elections support network in Swaziland (eSwatini) has called allegations of bribery around a Senate election ‘shocking’ and is demanding widescale investigations.

The eSwatini Election Support Network (EESN) wants investigations by the police, the Elections and Boundary Commission, the Human Rights and Integrity Commission and the Anticorruption Commission.

It made its call after Ngomuyayona Gamedze, a candidate for  the vacant seat in the Swaziland Senate, withdrew from the race and said he had been asked to pay bribes to secure votes.

A seat became vacant after the death of Senator Mike Temple last year. Gamedze, a former deputy Senate president, was one of five candidates.

In Swaziland the people do not elect the 30 members of the Senate; 20 are appointed by absolute monarch King Mswati III and the others are elected by members of the House of Assembly.

Tjengisile Shabangu, EESN Chairperson, said in a statement published on Facebook, ‘These allegations are shocking. When money becomes a determinant factor to being elected into public office, it perpetuates the inequality gap especially amongst women and other vulnerable groups to participate fairly in the electoral process. This undermines fair participation and transparency of an election. It also undermines electing people of calibre to perform representation and oversight roles in Parliament.’

Shabangu called ‘for critical organs of government to conduct intensive investigations into the credibility and fairness of elections and the applicability of electoral laws for reforms where there is need’.

Shabangu added, ‘The allegations that Members of Parliament demanded to be paid because they also spent lots of money points to a political system that is already not in the best interest of the nation but is in pursuit of personal gain. People elected into public office must show effectiveness in representing national interests as well as be critical of the country’s governance structures.’

Shabangu said, ‘These allegations affirm the EESN observation in its 2018 elections report that the elections were marred with malpractices especially using money to buy favour from the electorate.’

Separately, Sifiso Mabuza, one of the three remaining candidates in the election, complained that police had visited tenants at flats that he rents out and questioned them about him. 

The Times of eSwatini reported, ‘Mabuza said he felt harassed as the police officers also questioned his wife about him and they also went around calling pastors, his former teachers to the extent of asking how far he had gone with his education.’

In Swaziland, police vet candidates for senate elections to see if they qualify for elections. 

According to the Senate (Elections) Act, 2013, for candidates to qualify for nominations they need to be registered voters, have no criminal record as well as be in compliance with eSwatini Revenue Authority (SRA) regulations.  Candidates who entered and lost the last national elections also do not qualify for the nominations.  Candidates who have contract engagements with government would be disqualified if they fail to declare them. Also, candidates who are members of the armed forces do not qualify for nominations.

The election was supposed to take place last Monday (27 July 2020) but was delayed because of the vetting process.

See also

Candidate withdraws as bribery allegation hits another Swaziland Senate election

Swaziland King appoints eight of his family to Senate amid reports of widespread vote buying elsewhere

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

IMF gives Swaziland emergency coronavirus loan but is only half what is needed

The International Monetary Fund has approved a loan of US$110 million to help Swaziland (eSwatini) as it grapples with the coronavirus crisis.

The Swazi Government had earlier said the coronavirus (COVOD-19) pandemic had devasted the economy and it would be US$207 million short of the budget funds it needed for the present financial year.

It applied to the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument scheme.

Announcing the assistance the IMF said, ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified eSwatini’s existing economic and social challenges, leading to a sharp decline in growth and large financing needs.’

The announcement was made on Wednesday (29 July 2020).

The IMF added, ‘The immediate priority is to support public health, vulnerable groups and businesses. Once the impact of the pandemic subsides, it is critical to implement the authorities’ fiscal consolidation plan and structural and governance reforms to ensure debt sustainability and achieve a fast and inclusive recovery.’

The IMF said Swaziland’s economy already faced ‘deep economic and social challenges’ before the coronavirus crisis hit the kingdom in March. Swaziland has been on partial lockdown since then. 

The IMF said, ‘Before the pandemic, growth was subdued, the fiscal deficit and public debt were rising, and international reserves declining, amid elevated unemployment and widespread poverty. The pandemic has resulted in a sharp decline in growth and generated large financing needs, magnifying these challenges.’

The coronavirus crisis is worsening in Swaziland. On Wednesday the Ministry of Health announced a record number of positive cases of 147 in a single day. There have been 40 deaths, half of them in the past 14 days. In total 2,551 people have tested positive.

See also

IMF reports Swaziland public debt rising, foreign reserves fallen ‘below adequate levels’

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Swaziland seeks US$207m IMF loan to save sinking economy as coronavirus worsens

Swaziland (eSwatini) is seeking US$207 million from the International Monetary Fund as its economy continues to slide because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Swazi Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg said the money was needed ‘to cushion the budget and help address urgent balance of payment needs’ created by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Swaziland is already in recession and international trade and tax collections within the kingdom have been badly hit since March 2020 when many businesses were forced to lockdown.

In a statement on Tuesday (28 July 2020) Rijkenberg said Swaziland would seek the money from the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) which had been set up to help countries to help counter the effects of coronavirus.

Rijkenberg said the coronavirus crisis had ‘severely affected eSwatini’s economy, exacerbating pre-existing economic challenges’ which had led to ‘a significant contraction in economic activity’.

As of 27 July 2020 the Ministry of Health had reported 2,316 positive cases of coronavirus in Swaziland and 24 deaths. 

He added the government had been forced to spend money on a package of measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis that it had not budgeted for. He said, ‘The package includes additional health spending, ramped up food assistance programs, increased social protection transfers and improved access to water and sanitation facilities for the vulnerable. To accommodate this additional expenditure, additional resources have had to be mobilised, which would have worsened Government’s fiscal position, which had already been in a precarious state prior to the emergence of the scourge.’

The US$207 million represents 5.3 percent of Swaziland’s GDP. Rijkenberg said the request would be presented to the IMF Board before the end of this week and the outcome would be communicated soon thereafter.

Separately, also on Tuesday it was reported that the Labour Commissioner, Mthunzi Shabangu’s office had received requests from 105 different companies to retrench 14,048 workers who were presently on unpaid layoffs. Companies said they could no longer afford to pay employees. Labour Advisory Board discussions are expected to take place on Friday.

The IMF rules for receiving the RFI loan include that the country ‘is required to cooperate with the IMF to make efforts to solve its balance of payments difficulties and to describe the general economic policies that it proposes to follow. Prior actions may be required where warranted.’
In February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic hit Swaziland the IMF reported the kingdom’s economy continued to be in free-fall. Public debt was still rising, domestic arrears had grown, and international currency reserves had fallen ‘below adequate levels’.

The IMF reported, ‘Economic indicators are expected to remain weak. GDP growth [the total value of goods and services in the kingdom] is projected to temporarily pick up in 2020, as the government plans to repay some arrears, but growth would be subdued afterwards as fiscal imbalances persist and the private sector remains hamstrung.’

The IMF predicted the government’s deficit was expected to remain large and public debt would rise to above 60 percent of GDP over the medium-term and contribute to further reduce international currency reserves.

See also

IMF reports Swaziland public debt rising, foreign reserves fallen ‘below adequate levels’

Swaziland hospitals close to overwhelmed by coronavirus, says Heath Minister