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TO GOVT PEOPLE A MEANS TO AN END

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The British Government last week launched a six-month plan to rescue businesses from imminent collapse as a result of rocketing prices – to pay about half of their energy costs – announced Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Wholesale electricity and gas prices for businesses as well as charities, hospitals and schools will be capped at half the expected cost on the open market. This is part of a two-year household energy price freeze to stop businesses collapsing, protect jobs and manage inflation. Faced with similar circumstances, whose net impact was shrinking revenues and incomes thus wiping out expendable income visited upon businesses and working class by the two-year paralysis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eswatini Government threw the people under the bus by adding a further burden to the taxpayer, both business and households, by introducing value added tax on electricity bills in respect to the former and a special levy on the latter to fund rural electrification. This is just scratching the surface of the myriad of insensitivities of government and its leadership to the daily struggles of the people in pursuit of an honest life.

Interests

As I see it, government, fuelled by a political system created to serve the interests of the political elites and their phalanx of blind loyalists, apologists and praise singers, et al, is locked in the mindset that it is in exclusive possession of the proverbial hammer and consequently sees every problem to be a nail. In this context the people, both business and households, who constitute a small tax base fuelling government operations and the economy given the rigours of poverty and wide scale unemployment, are the solution to every government service delivery problem that requires cash injection. Considering the impact and long-term effects of the pandemic, government should have shelved VAT on electricity for businesses until such time that there is full economic recovery. In turn this would have ensured economic stability of businesses while at the same time protecting existing jobs in the short-term and creating employment opportunities in the long-term.

But perhaps the most punitive of taxes to be added to an already overburdened taxpayer is the levy on electricity to fund rural electrification, otherwise a government service delivery issue that has now been abdicated to current electricity consumers. This particular tax is intolerable in the face of the Eswatini Electricity Company (EEC) churning out hundreds of millions in profits annually even though serving as a middleman sourcing its electricity from third parties. The sum total of this is that the EEC is overcharging emaSwati, which is tantamount to stealing from them at the urging of government whose profit-driven motive is counterproductive to a developing country.

Premature

It was premature of government to allow an agent of development created by the taxpayer to transform into a profit-driven entity now closing in on profits of a billion Emalangeni yet failing to finance its infrastructure that it has outsourced to current and future consumers. This shows a government that lacked a blueprint for the development of this country post-independence. The question begging for an answer is what happens to the hundreds of millions of Emalangeni profits being generated by EEC. Probably to fill the bottomless hole created by government funding ill-advised and uneconomical projects like the Sikhuphe International Airport that has seen the budget of the Eswatini Civil Aviation Authority balloon beyond one billion Emalangeni – obviously maintenance costs of the airport.

It is amazing why, over half a century since independence, that this country of a mere 17 363 square kilometres has still not achieved 100 per cent electrification given its equally small population of just over a million people. In fact given its attributes, this country should be boasting First World infrastructure translating to a First World roads network, easily accessible health facilities, world class free universal education from cradle to the grave and a whole lot more. Poverty, joblessness and disease should be anathema but are on the ascendancy, contrary to the kingdom’s classification as a medium income country. All thanks to bad governance yet you have a class of people orbiting the seat of power who have been conditioned to applaud mediocrity as achievement.

Question

As I see it, in time we will need to address the question of whether emaSwati are victims or accomplices to the misgovernance that is manifested by institutional corruption, political excesses and thuggery, moral decadence, rape and abuse of natural resources, lately the wanton murder and torture of emaSwati opposed to the Tinkhundla Political System, the list of iniquities is endless. Those rooting for this country and emaSwati but have thus far elected to remain silent and anonymous, of course outside the dissolute circle of those who have cultivated and perfected the cult of veneration of particular institutions and individuals, ought to reflect on the import of the following quote by Plato: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”As it were this country is in a state of moral emergency, if not something worse, if measured by the indifference to the evils that are abroad and, therefore, there are no ‘innocent bystanders’ to quote Martin Luther King Jr, whom he referred to as oxymorons, ‘for if you are a bystander, you cannot be innocent’.

Last week, two poignant events thrust themselves into the public domain; the bombing of the home of Mlungisi Makhanya, the president of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and the brutal assaults of Hosea and Ngwempisi Members of Parliament (MPs), Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube respectively, while under the custody of the State, have paralysed my senses the same way the murder of dozens of pro-multiparty activists last year did. Perhaps one would have recovered sufficiently enough next week to ventilate on these matters in this column. In the meantime Makhanya and the two MPs must rest in the knowledge that they are not alone and never will be.  

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