The Catholic bishops of Southern Africa say that their government’s possible bailout of the small Kingdom of Swaziland should make government reforms a condition of the aid.
Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III, is the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
“We believe that the Swaziland Government must abandon or at least reform the ‘Tinkhundla’ system of governance of royal favor and alliance which is a breeding place for corruption and greed.
“Monies intended for alleviating the people’s suffering are diverted to support the lavish lifestyle of the monarchy,” Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said in a June 24 statement from the Southern African Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The people of Swaziland love their king and country, but the conditions that have created this crisis must not be disregarded by South Africa in considering a bailout.”
The Swaziland government has requested as much as $1.45 billion in aid. The country of about 1.4 million people has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world, at 26 percent, and the lowest life expectancy at 32 years. Its unemployment rate is 40 percent and rising, while 70 percent of its population lives on less than $6 per day.
A state of emergency in the country has also curtailed freedom of expression, association and dissent for the past 37 years.
The bishops said the South African government should make the loan conditional on Swaziland’s revocation of the state of emergency, its recognition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its establishment of a “democratic process” for writing a new constitution, and the amendment of the constitution to reinstate “the full range of human rights.”
The conference said the bailout should also require that King Mswati enter into “meaningful dialogue” with his people to “facilitate movement towards true democracy.” No bailout money, the prelates insisted, should go directly or indirectly to fund the monarchy.
The bishops’ concerns echo those of the South Africa government. The underground Swaziland Solidarity Network said Africa’s biggest economy would only agree to a bailout if Mswati allows the return of democratic rule, Reuters reports.
South Africa's powerful COSATU union federation has also asked that aid be provided only if democracy is advanced.
Swaziland turned to South Africa after getting little help from the International Monetary Fund. The African Development Bank also refused a $150 million loan request.
King Mswati has at least a dozen wives and an estimated personal fortune of $200 million.
The Swaziland government has begun cutting the salaries of its top earners, including a 10 percent reduction in the cabinet’s pay. Civil service unions are resisting salary cuts for lower-paid workers.
The country’s fiscal crisis was brought on by a 60 percent drop in 2010 revenues from a regional customs union, the government’s main source of income, Agence France Presse reports.
The drop was partly caused by a decline in regional trade, but mainly because of a change in the formula used to distribute custom earnings. Swaziland failed to budget for the change.
Finance Minister Majozi Sithole has said state coffers are losing up to $11 million per month because of corruption.