IMF team leaves Swaziland

An IMF team left Swaziland saying it did not support the government's financial reform programme.

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MBABANE - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has withdrawn its advisory team from Swaziland, saying it is unable to support the government's proposed financial reform programme.

The IMF was assisting the government in implementing the Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap (FAR), to right-size the budget, where government spending currently exceeds its revenue.

"Government has yet to propose a credible reform programme that could be supported by a new IMF staff monitored programme… the budget allocates an increasing share of resources to some sectors at the expense of education and health," Joannes Mongardini, head of the IMF team in Swaziland, told a recent press conference.

Swaziland's severe financial woes began after the global slowdown in 2008, when revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) plummeted. The union - comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland - applies a common set of tariffs and disproportionately distributes the revenue to member states.

The spending habits of King Mswati III - sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch - and the royal household are routinely splashed across newspapers, from the overseas shopping trips of his 13 wives to a "birthday present" for the king this year of a multimillion-dollar private jet. The South African daily newspaper, The Star, reported on 17 May that one of Mswati's wives had run up a bill of US$65,000 at a luxury Johannesburg hotel during her month-long stay.

About two-thirds of Swaziland's 1.1 million population live in chronic poverty in a food insecure country that also has the world's highest HIV/AIDS prevalence, with one in four people aged 15-49 infected.

"Government is now further away from feeding its people, providing medical aid, meeting educational needs and supporting children and the elderly with grants. This means international aid will be required to avoid a humanitarian crisis," Janice Sibandze, a community health activist in the commercial city of Manzini, told IRIN.

Grants for many of the elderly have not been paid this year, shortages of medicines have been reported in hospitals, and the government is struggling to meet its constitutional obligations to provide primary education to all children. Hundreds of mobile classrooms purchased two years ago were reportedly at risk of becoming unusable due to lack of maintenance.