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STATEMENT BY THE RT HON PRIME MINISTER

 

DR B. SIBUSISO DLAMINI

 

AT THE OPENING OF MEETING OF SADC MINISTERS OF FINANCE

 

ROYAL SWAZI SUN CONVENTION CENTRE

 

MONDAY 31 JULY 2017

 

Honorable Ministers of Finance

Executive Secretary of SADC, Her Excellency Dr

Stergomena Lawrence Tax

Deputy Executive Secretary for Regional Integration, Dr.

Thembinkosi Mhlongo

Senior Treasury Officials

Distinguished Delegates

Representatives of the Media

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my honour, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, to welcome you all to this meeting of the Committee of Ministers of Finance and Investment, and, indeed, to the Kingdom of Swaziland. I trust you will find your stay comfortable and that you will have time to see something of our country while you are here.

Honorable Ministers, as custodians of the purse strings, so to speak, of your respective countries, you have the challenging task of achieving and managing fiscal stability in a region that has recently endured drought and other disasters that have seriously damaged economic sectors, imposed serious hardship, decimated hundreds of thousands of livestock and displaced, and even taken, human lives. Not the kind of challenge that our countries needed as we pursue the elusive goals of faster economic growth, extensive job creation and the elimination of poverty.  As Ministers of Finance you are left with the unenviable task of balancing the books after calamities that have negatively impacted on our fiscal positions when we have lacked the buffer against such events. The fiscal space, already limited, has narrowed significantly. Hence, there is the need for our region to act collectively in creating powerful defensive measures.

This brings me to the SADC Development Fund, the operationalization of which will help substantially to accommodate the respective Funds that will facilitate an effective response and cushion against the natural disasters that we are facing all too frequently. The SADC Disaster Preparedness and Response Fund, which will be tabled before you today, as part of the SADC Development Fund, will take us closer to compiling a collective defence mechanism against these calamities.

Honorable Ministers, we meet time and again to review progress made in the implementation of our decisions, strategies and programmes for the region, as articulated in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan. Vigorous and resourceful introspection is a healthy activity and one that should be included in our thoughts and discussions today.  We need to ask ourselves whether we are achieving the objectives and goals that we have set for ourselves.  That analysis is vital if we are to progress. We met in July 2016 and made an important decision when we approved the operationalization of the SADC Regional Development Fund.  The ball is our side of the court today, to either sign and ratify the Agreement on the operationalising the Fund, or stay where we are, with solutions to this region’s problems remaining elusive. There is a big responsibility there, so I do urge you to engage actively and productively on issues that may be hindering the signing and ratification of the Agreement by the remaining Member States. 

To those Member States that have already signed the Agreement I encourage you to also proceed with the depositing of the instruments of ratification.  To those who have not signed, I urge you please to hasten the conclusion of your internal consultations.

Our development agenda depends substantially on the availability of finances to translate strategy to reality. The Industrialization Strategy and its Action Plan will cost money – investing to accumulate, as the saying goes.  It is dependent on the full operationalization of the Fund, to empower our countries for entry through the industrial development window. 

Honorable Ministers, this brings me to the next issue – one of immense importance in our region in the drive to remove poverty from our respective societies.  I refer to  the operationalization of the SADC Strategy for Financial Inclusion and SMEs Access to Finance. This Strategy, which was approved last year, urgently needs to be operationalized in order to achieve a system that can deliver financial services and products in a manner that renders them available, accessible and affordable to all segments of our respective societies. The Implementation Plan of the Strategy, with measurable and time-bound targets, will be a vital component in the process. I believe that our Senior Officials have applied themselves assiduously to ensuring that what is finally approved covers all segments of the financial architecture.  

Honorable Ministers, another issue, that I wish to highlight this morning, is the region’s relationship with the financial institutions to which we belong.  I give you an example of the African Development Bank (ADB). It is very encouraging to observe that the Secretariat has forged a strong relationship with the ADB, judging from the support that it continues to receive.  And, when making reference to the ADB, let us reflect on the sad and untimely passing of its Director-General, Ms Tonia Kandiero.  This is a huge loss for the Bank, and we shall miss her strong representation of the interests of the SADC that she exhibited from her office in Pretoria.  

At this point, allow me please to encourage our focus on the work of the SADC Structures which were created specifically to assist with the implementation of the Financial Sector agenda, through the Protocol on Finance and Investment. The respective Central Bank Governors are continuing to perform well in the implementation of their programmes, so I would like to echo the sentiments previously expressed by the Executive Secretary, commending our Governors for their sterling (no pun intended) efforts in the modernization of the region’s payments systems.  The SADC Integrated Regional Electronic Settlement System (SIRESS) continues to gain traction, with almost all our Member States joining the System. This is commendable and we should continue to be innovative in this programme, and ensure that the work done by the Payments systems, and other structures of the Protocol, remain relevant and timely. 

There is also a need to cement the relationship between Financial Inclusion and other initiatives in the region, to ensure congruence in the financial sector, particularly with regard to payments and clearance. 

Finally, Honorable Ministers, let me thank the Senior Officials for the diligence and thoroughness that they have applied to the preparation of the documents before you.  This will facilitate an expeditious process of discussion and resolution.

On behalf of His Majesty’s Government I wish you the most fruitful of discussions.

Thank you.

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