Mbabane - Swaziland’s R16 billion 2015/16 government budget is proving controversial even in a country where dissent is usually stifled.
Although the projected government revenues this year will be R14.6bn, down from R14.8bn last year and guaranteeing a deficit, criticism of the budget presented to parliament this past week by Finance Minister Martin Dlamini has been directed towards spending priorities.
“Budgeting for the real things, Swaziland needs to grow its stagnant or shrinking economy. Agriculture should command 10 percent of the budget to make Swaziland once again food secure. Instead, the 3.3 percent of spending for agriculture is less than last year. The attitude among the leadership seems to be as long as there are donor groups and the UN to keep Swazis from starving, then government revenue is free to be used to beef up the security forces,” a Mbabane economist who requested anonymity said.
Swaziland’s labour unions agree, noting the R20 million rise in army spending, the purchase of luxury BMW X5S sedans for all cabinet ministers and a R6.6m private retirement home being built for the prime minister.
Government spending on the royal family is not debated in parliament.
Dlamini said that the theme for his budget this year was “achieving more with less spending”.
However, cuts were selective, with the budget for the cash-strapped University of Swaziland unchanged from last year, and sports and the arts receiving less.
MPs have expressed their displeasure that grants for the elderly were raised only R20 per month, to R240. The grants are paid quarterly.
Seventy percent of Swazis live in chronic poverty, including many elderly whose sole income is the government grant.
One newspaper reported that R20 can purchase two loaves of bread. While government’s goal was gross domestic product growth of 5 percent, half of that or less was likely for 2015, Dlamini said.
“(5 percent) is the minimum level of growth that could achieve the desired social economic transformation by 2022,” Dlamini said. Last year, King Mswati announced his vision to achieve First-World status for Swaziland by 2022.
“This budget is a continuation of our journey towards Vision 2022,” said Dlamini, an appointee of King Mswati.
About R652m has gone missing from government coffers, according to a supplementary report to the budget submitted by auditor-general Phestecia Nxumalo.
Government spending is also diverted from intended usages.
About R400 000 earmarked for the creation of a child welfare unit was used to build a security fence for the deputy prime minister’s home.
Dlamini said the government intended to boost its “meagre resources” by “enhancing revenue collection”.
New taxes such as a capital gains tax will be introduced, Dlamini added.
“The current account surplus for the two quarters ending June 2014 stood at R1.2bn. The trade surplus and high Southern African Customs Union receipts were the main factors contributing to the increase in the current account surplus,” Dlamini added.