November 1, 2006

Government stops grants for the elderly

Swaziland's Government is blaming budgetary constraints for both its inability to provide education for the growing ranks of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and its failure to pay grants to widows and the elderly. Health and social Welfare Minister Njabulo Mabuza told parliament that the financial control advised that there were technical problems, and therefore it was not possible to pay the latest grant to the elderly, although he did not elaborate on the problems which had prevented its distribution.

Ministry of Education principal secretary Goodman Kunene blamed the unexpectedly large number of vulnerable children for draining available funds, although accurate government statistics of the numbers of OVC and elderly are not readily available. OVC and the elderly are supposed to register in the chiefdoms where they reside, or at government offices in urban centres. Grants to primary and secondary schools to pay for the fees of OVC ended when government said it ran out of money for the programme, the lack of funds meaning that OVC hoping to sit for their year-end final examinations will not be able to do so, as there is no money available to pay the external examination fees.

In the meantime, Swaziland's parliamentarians have embarked on an unprecedented stay away to protest against Cabinet's inability to get grants paid to the elderly. "These people [Cabinet ministers] are well-paid to do some work, but they are doing nothing," said MP Marwick Khumalo during a raucous meeting of the House of Assembly, when the members of parliament (MPs) gave Cabinet one week to start paying out stipends to people aged 60 and over, and voted unanimously to suspend all parliamentary work until then. (Africa News Dimension, South Africa)

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