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POLITICAL PARTIES NOT POPULAR IN SD, SAYS THE US AMBASSADOR

By Alec Lushaba | 2018-02-24

The United States of America Ambassador to Swaziland Lisa Peterson says a majority of Swazis still don’t see the need or value in political parties.

She said this is the view of Swazis expressed in a poll conducted by the Afro Barometer survey conducted recently.

Ambassador Peterson revealed this when speaking to editors during a media breakfast with the Swaziland Editors’ Forum held at the Mountain Inn yesterday.

With the country heading to a national election in October this year, Ambassador Peterson said political parties still need to work the ground to change the people’s mindset about their value.

She said as a result and after speaking to some of these political groupings she noticed that they are still divided on their approach on the country’s political question.

Ambassador Peterson said each entity based on its interpretation of the clauses of the constitution still takes a view that suits it.

“There is currently an array of ideas on how people tackle the provisions of the constitution that they don’t agree with. Each party or grouping needs to go about it in the way that works best. For some that is to say ‘we are going to be an entity’, but we are going to put our people as individuals. I think there is a clear amount of logic in that approach.

“It requires people to play a very long game and it becomes very hard to keep people’s attention and motivation with that kind of strategy.

“That plays a part in getting every average Swazi to understand why a political parties might be useful.

“One of the points I have made to political parties and civil society is that if you look into the Afro Barometer polling the figures still indicate that the majority of Swazi don’t see a need for political parties. That number moved up a little bit during the course of the year but clearly the majority still don’t see the need. 

Understanding

For me that speaks to people not seeing what a political party can do for them. You need to build understanding and policy of advocacy at the grass root level so that you can get a number of people thinking in a similar manner,” she said.

Ambassador Peterson said she feels the debate for the country to shift to multi-party democracy over night is probably misplaced at this time, based on the polling outcomes so far.

“They need to start at the grass root level on how a party can work for them and then build up from there.

“This however does not mean that people should not push for the constitutional provisions as they stand. For one to introduce full plural party politics requires that grass roots piece in place or share a common appreciation,” the Ambassador said.

 

Ambassador challenges women to run for bucopho, indvuna yenkhundla

The United States Amba-ssador Lisa Peterson says in order to get more women into Parliament would require more women candidates and further that during the voting, women don’t necessarily need to vote according to the whims of their fathers and husbands.

Peterson said when one looks at the US history it is no fallacy that women don’t vote for other women because they are jealous.

“There was this dynamic that the handful of women who did move forward did not necessarily bring other women along with them. That is a dynamic that we need to acknowledge and figure out how to address. The other piece that I need to address using my position is to emphasise to women to regard Parliament as the be-all end-all. It is an important entity to strive for but again, this is a long game, it is a marathon not a sprint. If women are truly going to be viable candidates for Parliament they need to start to contest the bucopho and indvuna yenkhundla level. They must put themselves forward at all levels so that they develop their track record so that when they do get to the level of running for Parliament seats they have that track record in their communities,” she said

She said working with the US office in Pretoria they have tried to put together a programme to support women and youth into politics, but because of some internal bureaucracies that support may not come until after the elections.

“It is now just starting to get on the ground and may not assist them for this election, but will be more useful in getting their voices heard after the elections. We should be more effective on the intervening years, years before the elections where we build capacity on how to advocate for things like the Sexual Offences Bill and so on. Whilst I am disappointed that we may not be able to assist with resources for women candidates to stand, but I take comfort in knowing that we will be able to assist outside this election,” she said. 

SD has appetite for Millennium Challenge Account

 

With AGOA regained, the United States embassy is now helping government to focus on qualifying for the Millennium Challenge Account, which is another foreign assistance mechanism.

“It will take some years to get government eligible. There are a number of actions that the government can take now to move towards eligibility. The criterion to qualify is not determined by the US government but by different certain entities that report on different segments that feed into a scorecard. Our point to government is that if they also want to be eligible for this Account, they will need to get some pieces of legislation done. For us the biggest piece of legislation that will make the biggest difference is the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill getting passed. The Millennium Challenge Account scorecard has 20 indicators; there are economic pieces, social and welfare pieces and good governance pieces. To become eligible you have to pass at least 10 of those 20 indicators. Amongst them, you have to have a passing score on the control of corruption and either political rights or civil liberties.

“Under political rights, Swaziland has a low score of one because of the mixed messages on political parties. This will stay low until the country demonstrate how political parties are accommodated. This is a year of opportunity with the lections coming late in the year to show how the system works in Swaziland,” Ambassador Peterson said.

She said the area where they see Swaziland having more success on is on the civil liberties side.

Improving

“There is still a little ground yet to be covered, with the changes in the laws that restored AGOA eligibility that should next year see the country improving its score further.

“If the SODV Bill get passed before this Parliament is dissolved and the implementation of the AGOA laws, that should be enough to move Swaziland over that threshold required. This is so because the SODV Bill feeds into other indicators that deal with gender, economy, regulatory effectiveness and many other areas where gender is not pronounced in the Bill but has the effect of dealing with those areas,” she said.

Ambassador Peterson said the Millennium Challenge Account gets to offer grants to government that addresses other key developmental issues which are not currently covered under PEPFAR, which is mostly health.

She said if the country would qualify for this support they would want to focus on climate change issues, like supporting the country’s resistance on drought and ensuring that the experience of some towns running without water are avoided.

Peterson said other areas are infrastructure support, like building of hospitals or power generation, projects that really help the economy to take off.

The ambassador said there is already a government task team that they are working with to ensure that the country works its way into qualifying for the Millennium Challenge Account.

Economic Planning and Development Minister Prince Hlangusempi confirmed initial talks or discussions with the US government around the Millennium Challenge Account.

“We are not yet there, but preliminary discussions show that already as a country and the momentum created when we reviewed the AGOA benchmarks we have moved quite a bit. We are yet to discuss it as Cabinet on how fast we can speed up the process and ensure that we comply with the legal requirements demanded of us.  “Some Bills which address these Millennium Challenge Account issues are already before Parliament. So I can confirm that as a country we are interested and would like to be part of the countries benefiting under this programme,” the minister said.

 

SAY NO TO SALARY HIKES – PETERSON URGES GOVT

 

United States of America Ambassador Lisa Peterson has stated that government should resist the temptation to increase public servants salaries, because they no longer have the means to do so.

She said if salary hikes were to be effected it would be a detrimental decision to make to the already weak fiscal position.

Speaking to editors during the Swaziland Editors Forum breakfast with the US Ambassador held at the Mountain Inn yesterday, Peterson said the country is already faced with a serious fiscal challenge and government should avoid the easy way out by submitting to the public servants demands.

She said public servants are also aware that government has no more resources to meet their demands.

“Unfortunately when reading the King’s speech I did not see frank talk on or about the need to make tough choices when it comes to the issue of fiscal discipline, or some rational thinking on how government ministries are structured. “Government can’t just continue to raise civil servants salaries. I know that civil servants know that there is no money in the coffers for their additional pay hikes, but still continue to demand them anyway. I worry that government’s desire is to go with the short term easy decision which is to raise the wage bill on the basis that there are no informal safety nets for their extended families. I think for the media this becomes critical to highlight these issues and ensure that you hold government’s feet on the fire to make the hard but ultimate responsible decisions,” she said.

Ambassador’s Peterson’s call comes at the time when Government Negotiating Team and the Public Sector Unions are engaged on winding  up cost of living adjustment negotiations.

She stated that the media is already aware that the country is already in serious cash-flow problems hence efforts need to be made to get the economy back on track.

In recent weeks public sector unions have declared that they were moving closer towards this being declared as an unresolved dispute which may allow them to consider engaging in a strike action, a position government has been trying to delay.

 

It’s all systems go for agoa

With the country having been re-admitted into the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), textile companies are expected to start exporting their goods and products to the United States of America as early as next month, March.

This was revealed by the United States of America Ambassador Lisa Peterson during the Swaziland Editors Forum breakfast with the ambassador held at the Mountain Inn yesterday.

She said they have been working on the textile visa documents, which allows the country’s goods that are mentioned under the agreement to enter the US market duty free.

Assured

“Whilst government this side had done its part to file the required documentation, the US Trade Representative office had assured us that they would be done by end of February and by March we should see a lot of activity within the textile industries.

“Companies who had arrangements to export to the US will just need to change their export documentation to be able to get that duty free benefit.

“That is good news for the country as it now focuses on growing the economy and ensures youth that have just graduated from high school or those from tertiary institutions without jobs are absorbed into the job market.

Renewal

“We will also focus on those entities that were exporting to the US but collapsed because of AGOA and also those that had not exported to the US market under AGOA.

“My message to government is that the country should take advantage of this AGOA window which has a lifespan of up to 2025. Beyond 2025 I don’t see the appetite for its renewal from the Washington DC side,” she said.

The ambassador revealed that the AGOA Regional Hub based in Pretoria will be visiting in the month of March to have discussions with entities exporting and those who want to export to the US market.

She said they are also willing and will be engaging government by helping them with the AGOA strategy on how to maximise its benefit.

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