- No detail on how much money will go to vaccine rollout
- No mention of how much govt has set aside for buying King’s wonder drug
- Zero detail on how govt will deal with anticipated Covid-19 3rd wave
- No increment of bogogo nabomkhulu grants
- No mention of salary review for civil servants
- Minister mum on how much govt will spend on school opening amid Covid-19
- Covid-19 battered tourism sector gets nothing
Mbabane: Government, through the Minister of Finance Neal Rijkenberg never cease to astound itself and emaSwati at large.
When closely looking at his 35-page budget speech, it becomes plausibly clear that there is nothing emaSwati can celebrate. At the time when almost all emaSwati are down after being battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the budget kicked them while they are lying down. In fact there is no hope given by the budget speech.
Strikingly, Rijkenberg was thin on detail throughout his speech and that was evidenced that the 2021 budget speech was short in length (35 pages) which is a far cry to the 50-page discourse he delivered in 2020.
Instead of giving emaSwati hope during this trying times when the economy is on the brink of collapse, people living in perpetual fear of being killed by the coronavirus and high unemployment rate, Rijkenberg apparently rubbed salt in the wound.
At this time when we are ceaselessly counting dead bodies of people killed by the deadly Coronavirus, Rijkenberg gave us no hope except for reading verses from the Holy Bible and just telling us “with God on our side, we will conquer the pandemic.” Yes that is true but that was not emaSwati wanted to hear from government. EmaSwati wanted a detailed programme of how much government will spend in procuring the much awaited vaccine and how much has been budgeted for the whole rollout programme. We are aware of the E200 million which was announced a couple of months ago which they said was set aside for the procurement of vaccine. That was stale news and we didn’t want that but precise details on how much will government spend and the specific timelines. That should have gave emaSwati a flicker of hope. In as much as I am not privy to the processes that had to be followed when rolling out the vaccination programme, but I don’t want to believe that E200 million will be enough for the programme. I stand to be corrected.
More astonishing is the fact that Rijkenberg was mum on how government plans to procure the King’s ‘wonder drug’ which His Majesty said it helped to cure Covid-19 related complications. We understand there are some doses available, but we wanted to hear the minister telling emaSwati how far have government gone in procuring the drug. Likewise, Rijkenberg failed to tell emaSwati how prepared government is to fight against the anticipated 3rd Wave of the Coronavirus which experts say would be more deadly than the second wave.
To civil servants, the thorn in their flesh is the deafening silence on their salary review exercise which they had hoped for. Whether is the right time to talk about that or not as Eswatini is still battling with Covid-19, is a story for another day.
To bogogo nabomkhulu and all those that receive social grants, there is nothing to celebrate from the budget speech as there was no increase in what they get.
Another soul dampener from the speech was the fact that government did not want to commit itself on when it will pay the E1.1 billion outstanding arrears owed to the private sector, more especially SMEs. The minister just acknowledged the fact that they owe its suppliers but was coy to commit himself on when they would be paid despite the fact that some of them date back to 2018/19 financial year.
Regarding school opening, there was nothing teachers, parents and pupils can celebrate. At the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, education stakeholders had hoped the finance minister will announce an allocation that will specifically cater for schools opening – money aimed at buying things like sanitizer, needed PPEs and additional furniture as regulations to prevent the Coronavirus dictates that there should be less learners in a class. Also, there is a pressing need of buying mobile classrooms to make sure that pupils are not overcrowded.
Based on the obvious fact that the tourism sector is among those which were mostly battered by the coronavirus after borders were shut, resulting to shedding of jobs by many tourism establishments, one had expected that the minister of finance would announce a boost to the sector so that it can recuperate, but nothing was announced.
On a positive note, we thank government to finally smell the coffee and increased the allocation for health to E2.8 billion, courtesy of the coronavirus outbreak. However, what disappoints me is that it is more or less the same with that of security which stands at about E2.7 billion and I wonder why it is (security) always getting a bigger chuck of the budget?
From all these observations it becomes reasonable to say there is nothing exciting which ordinary Swazis can celebrate from the budget speech. In fact it was bad news for the poor and thin on detail.