Parliamentarians in Swaziland are in a fix because it is not clearly understood what it is that King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has instructed them to do.
The problem is this: for more than a year the Swazi Government has been trying to implement what it calls a Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap (FAR). It came up with the FAR when it became clear that the kingdom had run out of money and was on the way to going broke. It wanted to get a loan from the African Development Bank, but before it could get this it needed the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The IMF said the government had to cut public expenditure and raise more money in taxes. The FAR was the government’s blueprint to do this.
So far so good, the government thought. But it drove straight into a problem when it decided that to cut public expenditure it would demand pay cuts from public servants and retrenchments (maybe as many as 7,000 jobs would go) or a combination of both.
The government set its stall on a cut of 10 pecent in public service pay, which the unions rejected outright. This led to stalemate.
Discussions continued between the Swaziland government, headed by Barnabas Dlamini (who was personally appointed by the King) and the IMF, on the best way forward. Talks also took place with the unions, but no agreement could be reached.
Then King Mswati stepped in. He is reported to have declared in a speech that the government should not unilaterally implement the 10 percent pay cut. In Swaziland King Mswati’s word is law, so the government wants to abide by it. The trouble is that although the unions say the King made the statement, the government says he didn’t.
Now, the whole emphasise of the debate on public spending cuts has changed. No longer is there negotiation between government and unions about the best way forward. The only question on the table is what did King Mswati actually say? When that is decided the matter is at an end.
So forget the year-long discussions with the IMF; forget the government’s FAR; forget the loan that might be forthcoming from the African Development Bank. All that matters is what King Mswati said (or didn’t say).
Nobody should be the least surprised by this. The Swaziland parliament has no real powers. The King appoints the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The King appoints 20 of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate – members of the House of Assembly appoint the other 10. Of the 65 members of the House of Assembly itself, 55 members are elected by the people (but political parties are banned) and the remaining 10 are appointed by the King.