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UNREST DAMAGES AT E800M, NOT E3BN - PARLY REPORT

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MBABANE – Initial government estimates on the damage caused during the recent civil unrest were almost triple what the current assessment reflects.

On July 3, 2021, the then Acting Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, and the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade, Manqoba Khumalo, went to various parts of the country where they assessed the damage and Masuku reported that the country had suffered an estimated loss of about E3 billion and 5 000 job losses. This was a figure which was even communicated to the SADC Organ on Politics and Defence (Troika), which had come to the country on a fact-finding mission following the unrest which culminated in vandalism, looting and burning some property by protesters. According to government, 34 people were also killed.   

Report

However, a report presented by the Ministry of Finance Portfolio Committee chaired by Lobamba Lomdzala MP Marwick Khumalo, reflects that the damage was estimated to be around E800 million. This, according to the report, is inclusive of loss of employment, stock looting, vandalism of structures and burning down.  It could not be ascertained how government, through Masuku, had initially reached the E3 billion figure, but Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg, in an interview yesterday, stated that those were initial estimates.  He, however, added that as time went on, the E800 million could hike. According to the report of the portfolio committee on the Reconstruction Fund Regulations, 2021, Minister Rijkenberg was asked to state the cost of losses suffered by businesses during the unrest.

In response, the minister said the figures on the losses were not conclusive as they were a result of a rapid assessment exercise done by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) at the 59 tinkhundla centres. The minister reported that of note was that infrastructure damage was the highest due to the looting, vandalism and burning down of businesses. According to the report, the costs incurred due to damaged infrastructure were estimated at E635 547 561.

Damages

The report further states that the second highest incurred costs were damages related to fields, forests and farms, which was estimated to have set the country back at a sum of E26.7 million. The report has further reflected that the third highest cost was to loss of goods and commodities, at E12 595 836. It was further reported that the least cost was incurred on temporarly closure of businesses to the tune of E1.8 million.  The report, which has been tabled and passed in the House of Assembly, reflects that the loss of income and job losses reflected an amount of about E6 656 469 while damages to vehicles was estimated to be around E2 300 700.  The minister highlighted that the breakdown was still a work in progress.

Initially, the ministry, in the regulations, had proposed that the funding under the Reconstruction Fund Regulations shall be in respect of financing formal and informal sector businesses damaged during the civil unrest, which commenced on June 25, 2021, until July 16, 2021.  However, the House agreed that the funding shall commence from June 25, 2021, ending on the date of publication of the regulations in the gazette.  Minister Rijkenberg yesterday stated that they had received the regulations from Parliament and had sent them to the attorney general (AG) for gazetting, which it was hoped would be out by yesterday.  Meanwhile, the MPs had further highlighted that a number of businesses had begun reconstructing, without the fund being in place.

Compensated

They asked if the businesses would be compensated and whether there was a plan in place on how they would be met financially. In response, the minister said the fund would assist businesses where damage to property was a result of the recent riots.  He further stated that there were guidelines which would be developed outlining the necessary requirements to be met should businesses require reimbursement for the works done before the establishment of the fund.  The minister was further asked to provide statistics of affected businesses and those entrepreneurs who lost stock of goods inside rented business premises. He was further informed that there were other concerns which had been overlooked.  “People have also been affected emotionally through loss of jobs, while public transport operators lost income as buses were parked,” submitted one of the legislators.  In response, the minister stated that quantifying and verifying stock losses was a challenge during the period of unrest. He said, however, the management committee would look into this issue during the development of operational guidelines. It was reported that the disbursing of funds would commence once the ministry had the funds transferred to EswatiniBank soon after the launch of the fund.

Guidelines

The Finance minister said the management committee had the task to develop guidelines speedily and meticulously to execute their duties, and to equitably service affected recipients. Asked why the funds were to be hosted by EswatiniBank when there were other financial institutions, seeing that EswatiniBank was becoming over loaded with other funds, he said the bank, unlike foreign-owned financial institutions, could accommodate a grant facility yet the other commercial banks were foreign and they dealt with strictly credit facilities.  He further stated that EswatiniBank had the necessary expertise, including managing grant money from foreign and local jurisdictions, received by government. He said consultations with the bank had been concluded and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had been drafted for managing the fund. Efforts to get a comment from the then Acting Prime Minister Masuku, proved futile as his phone rang unanswered. A text message was sent to him, but he had not responded at the time of compiling this report. Sources claimed that he was currently out of the country.

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