.- The Catholic bishops of Southern Africa say that their governmentâs 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.
âWe believe that the Swaziland Government must abandon or at least reform the âTinkhundlaâ system of governance of royal favor and alliance which is a breeding place for corruption and greed.
âMonies intended for alleviating the peopleâs suffering are diverted to support the lavish lifestyle of the monarchy,â Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said in a June 24 statement from the Southern African Conference of Catholic Bishops.
âThe 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.â
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 Swazilandâs revocation of the state of emergency, its recognition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its establishment of a âdemocratic processâ for writing a new constitution, and the amendment of the constitution to reinstate âthe full range of human rights.â
The conference said the bailout should also require that King Mswati enter into âmeaningful dialogueâ with his people to âfacilitate movement towards true democracy.â No bailout money, the prelates insisted, should go directly or indirectly to fund the monarchy.
The bishopsâ concerns echo those of the South Africa government. The underground Swaziland Solidarity Network said Africaâs 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 cabinetâs pay. Civil service unions are resisting salary cuts for lower-paid workers.
The countryâs fiscal crisis was brought on by a 60 percent drop in 2010 revenues from a regional customs union, the governmentâs 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.