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Social development, inclusive rural transformation, and sustainable economic growth require the provision of key public goods and services, all of which cost money.

Besides the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Swaziland faces serious socioeconomic development challenges that exert pressure on the national budget. For example, there is the issue of the high and ballooning civil service wage bill; many of our schools, universities and hospitals are underfunded; and those who complete high school with high hopes for their future soon come to terms with the fact that government scholarships are becoming a thing of the past.

At the same time, the private sector is not growing enough to provide the necessary jobs and opportunities for GDP production, and much of the country’s infrastructure such as roads needs serious upgrading and maintenance.

Even the basics of life are proving to be a key challenge in communities in the Lubombo and Shiselweni regions, which have to exist without access to water and basic food. Without a cushy office job within the Mbabane-Manzini corridor, including the sugar belts in Big-Bend and Simunye, and the forestry communities in Mhlambanyatsi and Pigg’s Peak, life can be a serious struggle for the 63 per cent of the population that lives under abject poverty in this country.

Yet poverty and hopelessness do not have to be the legacy for a country as small and socially integrated as ours. With a population of just over 1.2 million people, Swaziland is well positioned to execute world class public expenditures that can take care of its people for immediate social needs while also investing on capital projects that can enhance life in the future.

If the country works hard and works smart, it can outperform big countries and see our very own national development aspirations (Vision 2022) to fruition. YES, big countries tend to dominate and lead the world with their big populations, big economies and resources, and big ambitions. Still, it would be a big mistake to equate size with success.

The big ambitions of the big countries may not necessarily be the right ambitions for a small country like ours, especially at this point in our development path where we still have to take care of our basic needs. The amazing fact is that, of the 20 richest countries in the world, a majority of them, 14 of them (Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Denmark and Iceland, just to highlight a few) are small countries.

Beyond wealth measured in GDP per capita, even the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), which assesses a country’s achievement in education, health, housing, gender equity, etc, shows that, again, of the top 20 countries in the HDI, 12 are small countries. It points to the fact that in Swaziland, we too can be the envy of other nations, when our national budgets begin to prioritise on the real social and economic needs of our uniquely small and developing nation.

A large proportion of the national budget is financed through local resources. Usually government operates on a E20 billion budget of which about 70 per cent (E14 billion) government collects through revenue and grants, and the 30 per cent (E6 billion) raised through domestic borrowing. Since its operations in 2012, the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) has been instrumental in increasing the amount of money collected to fill government coffers. Taxes on net income and profit contribute to 31 per cent of the revenue collected by government while value added tax (VAT) contributes another 16 per cent.

The country also relies on revenues collected under the South African Customs Union (SACU) which usually contributes about 37 per cent of the total revenue collected by government but the reality is that SACU revenue is getting smaller and smaller to fill government’s wallet.

Government has the responsibility to put the monies collected by the revenue authority into creating value in our economy by addressing the needs of the entire Swazi population, with a focus on the 63 per cent that lives under the national poverty line.

Beyond 2017, let’s see more of the g-wallet going into purchasing medicines and equipment for treating our population. Let us see a government that is committed to empowering the ordinary Swazi citizen.

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