January 16, 2003

Civic organisations give government an ultimatum

A unprecedented alliance of teachers, workers, employers, churches and activists has given Swaziland Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini until January 20 to urgently address the "disastrous state of affairs" in the tiny kingdom.

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) alliance, comprising powerful civic groups, said on Thursday, January 16, it had been forced to issue the ultimatum to protect 20 000 jobs that will be lost as the result of threatened international trade sanctions by major trade partners.

The threatened trade sanctions follow concern at an apparent breakdown in the rule of law, deepening government maladministration, a deteriorating macro-economic environment and the growing threat to the American duty-free trade privileges in the General System Preferences (GSP) and African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA).

SCCCO said it feared at least 20 000 jobs would immediately be lost if Swaziland is kicked out of AGOA and GSP. The alliance added that a number of local NGOs are already facing dramatic cuts in financial assistance by international donors, who are threatening to pull out of the kingdom.

Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini condemned the ultimatum as irresponsible and criticised SCCCO for failing to meet with government before going public with its demands. SCCCO contends, however, that such negotiations are merely a delaying action by government and warned that international powers were increasingly concerned about the integrity of Swaziland's judiciary following the burglary of Swaziland's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Lincoln Ng'arua's offices.

The burglary last year was widely viewed within Swaziland as an attempt to derail charges against royalist Attorney General Phesheya Dlamini, who had threatened judges with instant dismissal for criticising absolute monarch King Mswati III. Police Commissioner Edgar Hillary has also since refused to effect High Court judgements that might impinge on Mswati's powers. Foreign High Court judges working on secondment in Swaziland resigned enmasse late last year in protest at the defiance.

SCCCO therefore this week called on the government to unconditionally withdraw a November 28 statement, declaring that the Swaziland government would not recognise or abide by some of the judgements of the High Court and Court of Appeal. SCCCO also urged government to immediately recognise the independence of the judiciary and condemn any threats against judicial officers. The alliance furthermore demanded that all security agents publicly pledge to respect the rule of law and judgements of the courts without any fear or favour; that government immediately implement corrective measures to restore Swaziland's international image; and that a national disaster be declared to mobilise domestic and international assistance to address the plight of the communities facing starvation. The immediate reforms, SCCCO claims, should be followed by the drafting of a bill of rights, a commitment to the separation of powers, and establishment of an Independent Electoral Commission to ensure and guarantee free and fair multi-party elections. SCCCO also wants to see an independent media commission to promote equal access to the media by all citizens, a codification of customary law, and establishment of a Public Protector (Ombudsman).

Similar demands have previously been made by Swaziland's banned underground movement, spearheaded by the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and contentious Human Rights Association of Swaziland (HUMARAS). Neither organisations have been granted membership in SCCCO, which has deliberately sought to unite the kingdom's wider civic bodies into a united social reformation movement. (African Eye News Service, Nelspruit)

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