Home | Feature | STILL HAUNTED BY COVID-19 FUNDS

STILL HAUNTED BY COVID-19 FUNDS

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

His Majesty the King has implored the business community in Eswatini to work even harder towards recovering economically from the COVID-19 pandemic and develop the country at large.

The King’s message was delivered in front of the Shiselweni business community but was obviously directed at the entire nation. He spoke on Wednesday night, during the Shilselweni Business Dinner held at the Mbangweni Royal Residence. This occasion is becoming more of an annual event, as it is held after the main Reed Dance (Umhlanga) Ceremony. The first leg of this colourful ceremony is the national one, which sees maidens from all over the country converging at the traditional capital Ludzidzini to take orders from Their Majesties on where and how to fetch the reed that is used to renovate royal residences. In his address, the King said he had been informed about how the Shiselweni business community had tried to sustain themselves at the height of the pandemic. He encouraged the community to engage relevant government ministries and departments if they needed assistance in turning the country’s economy around.

Growth

He also instructed the said ministries and departments to listen to the businesspeople and look into whatever requests they may have. Before his wide-ranging speech, His Majesty had been informed of ambitious ideas the region had for economic growth. These included the creation of over 4 000 jobs, which will be made available by Johnson Workwear, FTM Garments and others. FTM Garments will occupy a new factory shell being built at Mantambe. Incidentally, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade has been in the news with various announcements of new job opportunities of late. On Friday, the nation was informed of a new company that will set up shop in Eswatini and manufacture hair extensions.
This is an investment worth E262 million but it will be implemented in stages. The investment is expected to create 475 jobs in its first phase and reach at least 3 000 at full scale.

What I liked about these developments was the decentralisation aspect. Gone are the days when most manufacturing companies were located within the Matsapha Industrial Sites. The Lush Hair group, which will operates under the style `Be Beautiful,’ will be situated at the Ngwenya Industrial Estate. One can only plead, as one has done a few times before, for the creation of quality jobs, as opposed to ones based on quantity. It should not be about how many people will be employed but how the quality of life of workers and their families will improve. Currently, most of the jobs being created only serve to keep people busy while getting paid disappointing wages that only help them pay rent, buy food and afford transport to and from work. Having highlighted all these positives, one is saddened that the negatives cloud all the government and private sector efforts aimed at improving the country’s economy, post-COVID-19.

Spirits

This will cancel out all the gains made and dampen the spirits of hard-working politicians like CIT Minister Manqoba Khumalo and other stakeholders. I am talking about the unchecked wastage of public funds, as well as sheer negligence in terms of managing available resources. A few of these were highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which continued with its sittings in the week we have just ended. A close analysis of the issues uncovered by the Auditor General (AG) and which are being interrogated by the PAC, shows that once money gets into the hands of those who hold the government purse strings, it becomes a free-for-all. Some of the funds are given to parastatals like the Eswatini Civil Aviation Authority (ESWACAA), which has proven to be a huge drain to the country’s economy. The country would quickly be relegated to junk status if all public enterprises handled their affairs like the ESWACAA, which is always in the news for all the bad reasons, financially speaking.

From where I am sitting, the challenge is that the PAC is itself limited in terms of powers to take action against those found to have been involved in the mismanagement of public funds.
Take the matter of the disbursement of funds allocated to mitigate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that turned our livers upside down in the last two years. The virus is still a huge headache for countries like China, it has generally reached low infection rates in Eswatini. The city of Wuhan in China is where the first case of SARS-Cov-2, later to be known as COVID-19 was reported in December 2019. However, the issue of how funds allocated for the mitigation plan were used will be a talking point for years to come.
The picture being painted does not look good at all. Just a few months ago, the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) had a challenge with accounting for a bulk of the funds.
More facts and figures are still being revealed, with the latest being a report to the effect that the Siteki Hotel and Bethel Court in Ezulwini received a lion’s share of the over E15.6 million paid to establishments that accommodated healthcare workers and patients in the year 2020.

Paid

Siteki Hotel was paid over E5.5 million while Bethel Court received more than E4.8 million in total payments. The PAC was shocked that the Bethel Court, which only accommodated healthcare workers had received more money than entities that took in both health workers and patients. Auditor General Timothy Matsebula’s finding was that expenditure of funds meant for the COVID-19 response was not monitored by the NDMA and the Ministry of Health. My point is that the wishes of His Majesty the King, of seeing an economic turnaround, will not be fulfilled while such mismanagement of funds continues unabated. We all know that the COVID-19 aspect is just a tip of the iceberg.  Almost all government ministries and agencies are guilty of same. Creating jobs and increasing productivity will be like water on a duck’s back if money spent will not be strictly monitored and where mismanagement is noted, the culprits will not be censured.

Comments (0 posted):

Post your comment comment

Please enter the code you see in the image:

: BRICS
Should Eswatini join BRICS as per the Russian Federation's invitation?