March 9, 2012

Budget rewards king with millions

Questions are being asked about Swaziland's spending priorities following the publication of the national budget, which sees increased allocations for the royal family and the military instead of focusing on the health and social sectors.

On top of the R210-million allocated to King Mswati III and his family, a further R250-million is being provided for various royal projects, including the refurbishment of state houses, the maintenance of roads to palaces and royal security training. The king's office, which manages the royal trust fund and business arm Tibiyo -- which is not taxed and does not use its profits for ordinary Swazis -- will receive R5-million, up from the R70 000 it was given last year.

Money for the defence ministry, meanwhile, has been increased by nearly 15% to R713-million and more than R310-million has been set aside for the building of Swaziland's new airport and link roads -- a project labelled by many as a white elephant in the making, seeing as Swaziland has no airline of its own. There is also a R1-billion allocation for "central transfers", which will "provide for non-statutory transfer payments in [the] discharge of commitments that do not fall within the ambit of any other sector". Health spending stands at R1.1-billion, up slightly on last year's R1-billion -- but still not enough, say health professionals, to meet demand in a country that has already been bailed out by donors to ensure it can provide sufficient antiretroviral medication. Grants for orphaned and vulnerable children have been increased by R10-million, but money for the elderly has been slashed by R20-million and the National Disaster Management Agency has seen its funding halved.

Dumisani Sithole, an independent Swazi economist, said the budget did not reflect his country's realities. "You can see the army has been given a larger budget this year, but for me Swaziland is not at war and will never be at war," he said, adding that there were many unanswered questions about how much money was being spent on the royal family, "because it's not clearly articulated in the budget papers." (IRIN)

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