Eswatini unveils stimulus plan for virus-hit economy

The stimulus package will be earmarked for nearly 100 projects in tourism, agriculture, mining and manufacturing among other sectors.

Eswatini Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini. Picture: @EswatiniGovern1/Twitter

MBABANE - Eswatini will roll out an ambitious post-coronavirus economic recovery plan, the government said Thursday, as it hit back at claims that King Mswati III was draining state coffers to fund a luxury lifestyle.

The $1.7-billion (1.44-billion-euro), 18-month scheme aims to revive the long-ailing economy of Africa's last absolute monarchy with the help of the private sector.

"Eswatini is open for business," Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini of the small southern African country of 1.2 million, formerly known as Swaziland, told AFP.

"We are giving assurances to potential investors that if they bring their money into the country, the kingdom of eSwatini is a stable country politically," he said in an online interview.

The economy is projected to shrink 6.7% this year, battered by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has so far caused 4,058 infections including 79 deaths, according to an official tally.

The stimulus package will be earmarked for nearly 100 projects in tourism, agriculture, mining and manufacturing among other sectors.

The private sector is being counted on to fund around two-thirds of the money, with the rest coming from government cashflow and international financial institutions.

The government also rubbished "misinformation" that King Mswati III hollows out state coffers at the expense of his subjects - a perception apparently driven by the recent purchase of a fleet of Rolls-Royce cars.

"Contrary to all the things that you read about, His Majesty respects proper governance and integrity and he supports the private sector 100 percent and there is absolutely no interference when it comes to that," said the premier.

Civil servants protested last October to demand higher pay after a fleet of limousines was delivered to the royal family.

Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg said the king, like other monarchs, was historically wealthy and could do what he liked with his own money.

"We just need to be clear... and that is that it is not taxpayer money that is spent on what was referred to as the Rolls-Royces."

King Mswati III was crowned in 1986, when he was just 18. He has come under fire for his expensive tastes and spending.

Eswatini ranks 144th out of 189 countries on the UN's Human Development Index. Around two-thirds of its inhabitants live below the threshold of poverty.

Download the EWN app to your iOS or Android device.