November 29, 2011

Opposition to military spending grows

Parliament’s passing of US$8 million supplementary budget for the country’s army has provoked a rare public reaction in questioning the role or even the need for an army in view of the deepening economic crisis. 4.7 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) are already spent on paying, equipping and barracking the 3,000 soldiers. In contrast: four percent of government spending are alloceted to agriculture, while 17 percent is spent on the security services. Only the budgets for general administration and education receive a larger amount of money from the donor-dependent government, while health gets a 10 percent share.

Parliament is forbidden to debate military budgets, and details of specific military spending are cited as a state security matter.

“We actually do not need the army. Most of the army’s resources are spent on the borders and on providing security at royal residences,” said an editorial in the Times Sunday newspaper. “To protect us, that is the duty of the police.” A letter published in the newspaper asked: “How can we get a peaceful night’s sleep when civil servants are told to take salary cuts, and the elderly are told they will not get their grants? Government says there is no money, so why is there so much money then to feed soldiers? Are they preparing for war? Against whom? The only thing that can cause conflict is the lack of [government] service delivery.”

Moreover, Vincent Dlamini, secretary general of the National Public Servants and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU), said that the government intended retrenching 7,000 public sector workers and reduce the retirement age to 55 years of age, while maintaining the retirement age of 60 in the army. “The country is not at war and so there is no need to spend 4.7 percent of GDP on the army. Government is complaining about the huge wage bill but is keeping more people in the army,” he said.

The formation of an army coincided with the banning of political parties in 1973, after Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza, decreed the country’s independence constitution invalid and assumed all executive, legislative and judicial powers for himself and his descendants. Political opposition parties were outlawed, as were public demonstrations. (SADOCC/IRIN)

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