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WILL RATINGS IMPACT SD’S BODY POLITIC?

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Could joining the league of credit ratings agencies represent a calculated paradigm shift in the body politic of the kingdom or just another futile exercise at selling the Tinkhundla Political System as credible and an alternative to the universally accepted multiparty democratic system?

But before knuckling down to today’s subject matter, I should state that I have been overwhelmed by congratulatory messages post the local government elections. Apparently people think I am now a councilor but the fact is I was not successful in the elections in Ward 5 of the Mbabane Municipality. I failed to get the votes of the 164 voters who did not vote - out of the 267 voters who had registered for the election in Ward 5 - who did not cast their ballots that would have given me a landslide victory. But that is how it is! Back to the subject matter of today’s column, the first rating, by Moody’s rating agency, after the kingdom opened itself to such scrutiny has essentially placed the country in junk status. Of course this is not surprising given the way this country is governed. The challenge facing the kingdom at the wake of the decision to open itself up to this global scrutiny is that of subscribing to common values to those obtaining to the global community. For up to now there is no value system to which this country is anchored that forms the foundation that informs the ethos of the governance of this country.

On one hand are the monumental challenges that will inevitably come to the fore as an immediate offshoot of the kingdom joining countries that are periodically rated by international ratings agencies. While on the other hand will be the benefits accruing to the kingdom as a consequence to being rated, particularly if and when the ratings are favourable. A favourable rating has a direct impact on a country’s credit worthiness and this impacts positively on its potential to attract investors as well as diversify resource mobilisation. However, the reverse is true if the ratings are negative, which often leads to an intimate interrogation of a nation’s body politic and how it is governed. As I see it, the immediate challenges are those posed by the obtaining political system because it lacks the key essentials requisite to good governance. These are transparency, accountability and predictability and not to forget prudent management of the fiscus. To those wedded to the truth these challenges are pedestrian since they are all abroad to behold to those who have eyes but certainly not to the phalanx of blind loyalists with a tortuous relationship with the truth ostensibly because of the benefits accruing from the status quo.

Given the duality of the western-styled and traditional systems running parallel to one another in the governance of the kingdom somewhat blurs the lines, especially to outsiders such as rating agencies, on the apportionment of responsibility and authority. Why, but even for one on the ground there is a lot of obfuscation in the governance of the country that in turn impacts on decision making and appropriateness thereof.
Empirical evidence of the inherent weaknesses of the obtaining political hegemony is that key and important decisions, be they political, economic or social, are often not informed by national imperatives but by disposition of individuals or the power they wield. Another problematic area occasioned by the obtaining political status quo is inherent institutional weaknesses that are paralysing their functions and performances. A good example of this is none other than the so-called supreme law of the land, the national Constitution. This document is effective only when and if the powers that be say so otherwise they themselves have no respect for it whatsoever. Yes, rating agencies clinically scrutinize the fabric of a nation’s body politic, structures, decision-making, management of the fiscus, building of consensus on national issues, etc, to the point that some governments have often complained that they were intrusive, interfering in the governance of their respective countries.

And from a governance perspective, it is almost impossible for the kingdom to conform to the best practices expected by rating agencies under the prevailing political climate unless and until it migrates to the globally accepted and much understood pluralistic body politic. Of course those the system benefits variously would argue that the status quo has ensured peace and stability in the kingdom. But what they will not explain is the absence of the peace dividend that should be accruing ensuring that the country is attractive to foreign direct investors to speed up economic development. The question is: is the Kingdom of Eswatini ready for the scrutiny from the rating agencies? Yet on the other hand, once the kingdom has gotten its ducks in a row the spin-off would be positive ratings, a much desired lubricant to the economy and development. Embracing international rating agencies could either make or break the kingdom, all depending on what the leadership is prepared to do. The clock is ticking!

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