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WILL WOMEN VOTE FOR WOMEN?

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Just as I observed in a previous article, the outgoing members of the House of Assembly have become more vibrant and observant.

Of course, they have not forgotten that they are due to receive their gratuity of up to E572 000 each and are also discussing that as well. No surprises there. The cause of this newfound enthusiasm is anybody’s guess. I am just here to say I was impressed by Ndzingeni MP Lutfo Dlamini who asked if the International Convention Centre and Five Star Hotel (ICC/FISH) in Ezulwini was a commercially viable project, or just a money-milking scheme. He was addressing Dr Tambo Gina, the Minister of Economic Planning and Development last Monday. In vernacular, Dlamini said of the ICC/FISH, “Ngulapho kudliwa khona imali yini?”

The reader will recall that at its initial stages, the project was estimated to cost E370 million. However, 11 years later, it is now estimated that it will cost E7.36 billion on completion.
Despite this, a franchiser to operate the humongous hotel has not yet been identified. This is worrying because experts say ideally; possible operators should be identified before commencement of such a big project. That way, the identified company can monitor construction and make suggestions that will see the hotel being custom-made, sort of.

adjustments

If not, the operator might come and demand that certain adjustments, which would cost millions of Emalangeni, be made to suit its own brand. Government has continuously given assurances that an operator would be found. The only grey area is that there seems to be confusion regarding whose responsibility is it to find that operator. There is a worrying narrative that this should be the duty of the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs. I respectfully disagree with this assertion. The ministry is expected to lure tourists into the country by showcasing the available natural and man-made attractions. It is not supposed to look for investors. It is the Eswatini Investment Promotion Authority (EIPA) and its parent ministry that should scout for investors for the kingdom.

Back to the Ndzingeni MP whose questions were pertinent, as far as this project is concerned. My only gripe is that they are coming a bit too late. The imposing building is already standing there, where it has changed the Ezulwini landscape forever. It is a beautiful structure with exotic architecture that really catches the eye. Construction or the plan to construct it began in 2012, a year before the 2013 – 2018 Parliament was to come to office. Both senators and members of the House of Assembly of that period were aware of its construction. They were aware that costs were escalating way beyond what had been projected. They also knew that an operator had not been identified.

election

Some of them lost the election in 2018 and did not return, but a few are back in the august house. Joined by new MPs, they have again been there for almost five years, watching as the hotel and convention centre took shape. Now and again, they would ask questions about the ICC/FISH, especially when newspapers wrote certain stories, but that would be it.  We all wish that the project becomes a huge success that will draw local and international visitors back to Ezulwini and boost the country’s economy. We hope it will be operating soon, creating employment for chefs, cleaners, caretakers, waiters, bar attendants and security guards, among other staff.

However, should it fail, some of the blame should be apportioned to the 2013-2018 and 2018-2023 parliaments. They dismally failed to ensure that government had all its ducks in a row with regard to this project. As we are all aware, this is not the only area in which Parliament has failed us. They have been there as the Ministry of Health dragged its feet on the matter of a perennial shortage of drugs in public clinics and hospitals. There is no excuse at all for government’s failure to arrest this challenge once and for all. The only reason is that they have never made it a priority.

Parliament, for its part, only spoke about it to please voters or people who listen to ‘Tasephalamende’ on Eswatini Broadcasting and Information Services (EBIS) radio. If private hospitals and pharmacies always have the required medication in stock, what is government’s excuse? Even if a prescribed pill, medicine or ointment is not available, private entities always have generic ones as alternatives. Not so for government health facilities. This basically means there is no problem with suppliers. Our government just does not think that stocking up on all required drugs is important. The excuse of lack of funds is unacceptable in a country where many other projects and events are easily well-funded.

failures

Recently, four doctors attached to the Mbabane Government Hospital resigned, all at once in just one day, citing lack of working tools, which include drugs.  Parliament has also failed the education system and leaves behind a mess with regards to top-up fees in the Free Primary Education (FPE) programme, as well as the hiring of enough permanent teachers for public schools. The list of the outgoing MPs’ failures is long. That is why, this being election year, voters should ensure they do not repeat mistakes of the past. There has been a suggestion that there should be minimum qualifications for MPs. This is a valid point in light of the poor representation the electorate gets after each election.

We need educated, intelligent and decisive women  and men in the 2023-2028 Parliament and beyond. This reminds me of the words of one resident of Nkhaba who spoke during the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) voter education event, saying jealousy was the reason women did not vote for other females. Minister Pholile Shakantu, who was acting Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) a couple of weeks ago, told participants at an International Women’s Day event that female voters should vote for other women. The Eswatini electorate has ignored many `Vote for Women’ campaigns, but since male-dominated parliaments have not lived up to expectations, isn’t it time we give the other gender a chance? We could be pleasantly surprised.

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