Swaziland's new finance minister, Martin Dlamini.

Johannesburg - The long-serving governor of the Central Bank of Swaziland, Martin Dlamini, has been appointed Swaziland’s new finance minister by King Mswati III.

Dlamini replaces three-term minister Majozi Sithole, who has overseen a steady decline in the kingdom’s economy.

All cabinet ministers are chosen from the ranks of Parliament, and Mswati set up Dlamini’s appointment by naming him one of the 20 senators he selected last week.

Dlamini brings to the job a background of 35 years in banking and experience working with the royal family.

The Swaziland Bankers Association bemoaned the appointment of Dlamini as a loss to the banking industry but saw his financial expertise as a benefit to the government.

“Martin is well experienced internationally; he has dealt with organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, for instance. He is well travelled and exposed, so he is really a great appointment,” the association said.

For years Dlamini’s summations of the country’s declining economic indicators appeared in the central bank’s annual report and were often at odds with the rosy economic pictures that previous finance ministers presented publicly and to the palace.

This enhanced Dlamini’s reputation for candour and independence. Political observers said these characteristics would be tested now that he was a politician.

“Swaziland’s minister of finance must make sure that the royal family has all the money it wants. He has to do whatever it takes to make his patrons happy,” said a bank official in Mbabane, who declined to give his name.

“But Martin was also brought on to do something about the country’s dead economy. His hands are tied as long as Swaziland’s economic policies are determined by the palace,” the official said.

New foreign direct investment has virtually ceased because of investor perceptions that the country is a small market and it is not worth the risk of doing business with an unelected government.

The fate of any year’s gross domestic product depends on the country’s allocation from the Southern African Customs Union. Indigenous industry is not growing because investors find the large markets, superior infrastructure and relative political stability of neighbouring countries more alluring.

Swaziland’s agricultural sector has failed to meet the population’s food needs for decades, and – depending on weather conditions – up to half of the population requires international food aid.

“As finance minister, all Martin can do is rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic that is Swaziland’s economy until political reform gives the country a fighting chance to compete with its neighbours,” said Charles Ndwandwe, a political activist in Manzini.