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STATEMENT BY THE RT HON PRIME MINISTER,

 

DR B.S.S.DLAMINI

 

AT THE SMART PARTNERSHIP REGIONAL DIALOGUE IN HHOHHO REGION

 

At Piggs Peak Hotel

 

Thursday 5 July 2012

 

JEG Chairman, Honourable Deputy Prime Minister

SMART Cabinet Ministers

SMART Regional Administrator

Distinguished SMART Partners

 

Another year has gone by and the time has come round for this year’s SMART Partnership Regional Dialogue in the Hhohho region, an event also taking place in the middle of the year in the other three regions.

 

I am delighted to attend the Dialogue and I find it most rewarding to see this relatively new, but important, form of indaba putting in roots, so to speak – and now a fixture on the calendar and so well-attended.

The idea of decentralizing dialogue was generated in the National Dialogue itself some two years ago where requests came from the floor for regional events that would assist Government in assessing progress in national development, and identifying areas for further consideration in the National Dialogue. This has proved to be an important dimension of SMART Partnership and, in particular, ensuring that what was promised in regional dialogues, was subsequently taken to the National Dialogue.

A further significant aspect of Regional Dialogue is reporting back the following year on issues brought up the previous year.

Water harvesting featured prominently in last year’s Dialogue, and for very good reason. Agriculture remains the backbone of our economy, we are a Nation of farmers and the development of our society will continue to depend on that sector well into the future. Whether for the growing of cash crops or the achievement of greater food security, the effective capturing and efficient use of rainwater is essential to growth in agricultural output.

Since last year’s Dialogue, five rural water supply schemes have been completed, with two officially opened at Nsingweni and Nyakatfo. That translates to a further 8,000 people benefiting from a supply of potable water. More water schemes are being developed, with designs for Ntfonjeni and Hhukwini now completed with construction ready to commence. These two schemes alone will benefit over 4,000 people.

 

Earth dam construction has continued, though heavily constrained by Government’s fiscal position. Nevertheless, the Mayiwane Dam is 95% completed and the remaining dams that are planned will be constructed when funds are available.

 

In last year’s Dialogue, concern was expressed regarding the rate of HIV prevalence among the youth. Prevention initiatives being clearly the most effective way of reducing prevalence rates, much time has been focused on education with the emphasis on one of the most effective conduits – education by peers and peer groups. During the past year, 30 peer educators were trained and this is expected to achieve a significant impact. Furthermore, 500 schoolgoing children were circumcised as part of the ongoing national programme.

 

It is important to draw everybody’s attention to the capital intensive nature of the Dialogue recommendations of last year. By necessity, Government was obliged to suspend the majority of the planned capital projects. I emphasise the word “suspend” so that it is understood that such projects are merely delayed and not abandoned.

 

I mention in particular the vocational training programme. In the past year, Government has been unable to expand the vocational training programme in schools or build more vocational training centres at tertiary level. It is now central to national education policy that we introduce an increasing emphasis on the development of skills that enable our young adults to earn a living as entrepreneurs in building, manufacturing, and growing activities. Our vocational training plans will therefore command a high priority as Government’s fiscal position improves.

 

This last comment does, of course, lead us to the inevitable question – when will Government’s fiscal position improve? The short answer is that the position has improved but not to the extent required to fund the entire capital programme.   And the future itself carries a considerable degree of uncertainty.

 

While we are so heavily dependent on a substantial proportion of public revenue coming from an external and largely non-controllable source – the pool of Southern African Customs Union duties - we are vulnerable to precipitate, unpredictable and, in recent times, substantial falls in income.

 

Our solution to that untenable position has been to establish the means for increasing domestically sourced revenue. Our first major step was to create the Swaziland Revenue Authority to improve revenue administration – particularly the collection of taxes due to Government – and to broaden the tax base. The impact of those measures will be felt over the coming years.

 

In addition to increasing Government revenue, we are having to take steps to reduce expenditure. You will be well acquainted with the existing public sector pay freeze. Government would have greatly preferred not to have implemented such a measure, but it is essential. The only practical alternative would have been to make large numbers of employees redundant.

 

Retrenchment is a measure that Government wishes to avoid. Nevertheless, as I mentioned recently, there are public sector employees who, through no fault of the employer, have become unproductive – otherwise known as deadwood. There is a scheme, currently in its final stages, that will remove the deadwood in a reasonable and decent manner, at the same time making a significant contribution towards bringing our public sector wage bill down to manageable proportions.

 

These important fiscal measures are essential and will have a substantial impact in due course. But the one statistic that will be of greatest significance in creating the national prosperity, to which we all aspire, is – the rate of economic growth. Put simply – the rate of increase in output of goods and services from the private sector. And in return for expecting that from the private sector, the engine of growth, we in the public sector will be carrying the primary responsibility of providing an enabling business environment.

 

The catalyst for achieving that economic growth is the Economic Recovery Strategy and, in particular, the New Investor Roadmap. It is the latter vehicle that relates closely to one of your Dialogue topics. In short, we need to improve the business climate in the Kingdom and make a reality of our new brand – Swaziland: Africa’s new Promise.

 

The Roadmap is basically a series of targets – all specific, quantified and measurable. They include targets such as reducing the number of days required to get a trading licence from seven to three, as well as reducing the time taken to resolve commercial court actions from three years to three months. All of the targets and their deadlines are challenging but all serve to improve our global competitiveness and attract foreign direct investment (FDI), while simultaneously providing an enabling environment for local business development, from large- down to micro-scale enterprise.

 

At the same time as increasing national output there is an urgent need to create many new jobs. One of the great benefits of attracting FDI is the immediate job creation involved as well as the additional spin-off effect into the local economy. Furthermore, one of the targets of the Investor Roadmap is creating this year, for at least 20 small scale businesses, a supply linkage with big foreign direct investment.

Tourism is generally recognized as creating more jobs than any other economic sector. Swaziland has a great deal to offer but investment in that sector has been minimal in recent years. The Roadmap will improve the conducive environment and attract tourism investment but we should start by helping ourselves through conceiving community tourism projects of our own. This is a message that has been communicated to each Dialogue. It is a growth area but the growth and sustained support need to be driven by communities themselves, they being the beneficiaries of the jobs and income generated – a genuine win win scenario. We look forward to hearing views and ideas.

 

We all anticipate constructive discussions today in the spirit of SMART Partnership. The topics cover a wide spectrum. Following the Rio Conference on Climate there will be much to talk about on climate change and how we can play an effective part in reducing negative climate change. The way in which development funds are utilized in the tinkhundla is also a pressing issue and included in the agenda, as are the infrastructure needs.


I urge all on the Government side to do their very best to address the concerns and proposals of those participating today and help to take key aspirations through to the National Dialogue and, in due course, to realisation. I wish the gathering a fruitful and harmonious Dialogue.

 

Thank you.

 

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