By Ntombi Mhlongo
Since it was officially opened in 2012, there have been concerns that the Royal Science and Technology Park (RSTP) was failing to fulfil its mandate.
The concerns were serious such that critics have even labelled it a white elephant that was a drain to government coffers.
Part of the reason why the successful operations of the entity have not been impressive has been the failure to review the legislation that established it. The legislation lacked critical provisions, something which made the RSTP become an almost useless entity.
However, it looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel as the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) has tabled the Royal Science and Technology Park Bill.
The tabling of the bill comes just after three since the park was visited by Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini and Cabinet Ministers including Manqoba Khumalo. The object of the bill is to provide for the continuance of the RSTP as established under the Act, No.5 of 2012 as an innovation agency for the furtherance of research on science and technology-related fields, innovation, and associated technology transfer.
The bill is also aimed at turning the RSTP into a designated Special Economic Zone.
The bill stipulates that the park shall designate one or more pieces of land or physical environment which has control of, or parts as a science and technology area of innovation or special economic zone for research into, and the development and use of industry, science, and technology.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the RSTP, Vumile Dlamini said he was more than excited that finally, the government is taking the first step in the right direction as far as the operations of the entity are concerned.
“This is a review that we have been requesting for about five years now. The principal Act lacked certain provisions which affected the operations of RSTP. When it was enacted in 2012, the stakeholders did not understand science parks at the time, yet they had to have legislation in place. Eventually, a law that lacked important clauses to allow RSTP to operate efficiently was promulgated,” Dlamini said.
He mentioned that the existing legislation has limited the RSTP in many aspects which is why a review of it was key. For example, Dlamini said, when companies are established and put under the Special Economic Zones, RSTP has to partake and have a stake, however, the existing legislation does not contain a provision to allow for that.
“Ideally, the RSTP must have a stake of up to 60 per cent but that cannot happen because the existing legislation does not allow such. So, we have not been able to participate efficiently,” he said.
Also, he made an example of opportunities availed where the RSTP could take part in tenders and was restricted because the legislation did not have a provision.
He said they have for the past five years been fighting to have the existing legislation reviewed and said they were more than grateful to both government and Members of Parliament for making it a point that the review is done.
Meanwhile, Dlamini highlighted that what would be left now is a review of yet another piece of legislation, the Special Economic Zones Act, 2018.
Elaborating, the CEO said the Special Economic Zones Act contains many provisions which are against the spirit of what the RSTP mandate is about. Also, he said it was important to ensure that laws allow investors to operate in a conducive environment.
“I will make an example; we have a law that stipulates that an investor will have their licence expire every year and they will have to renew it by filing a request with the minister responsible. The fact that it is at the minister’s discretion to renew investors’ contracts or not is a challenge. No one wants to invest billions in an environment where it is a politician that will decide whether to renew a licence or not. It is too risky,” explained Dlamini.
The RSTP is the brainchild of His Majesty King Mswati III as a result of his insatiable desire to help stimulate economic growth through foreign direct investment, thus leading the Kingdom of Eswatini into first-world status.
The sole objective of RSTP is not only to be the leading oasis of science and innovative technologies for wealth creation but also to promote the development of information technology (IT) and research and development.
It has been designated as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), and this was implemented through the SEZ Act of 2018.
The SEZ drive is designed to help promote export-oriented growth, generate employment to ensure technology transfer among the Eswatini populace, and subsequently stimulate economic growth. Currently, at least 80 ha of the industrial development land at Nokwane is serviced and readily available for the potential targeted investments to set up shop.
Several problems have been cited as the cause of the failure of RSTP including lack of funds.
At some point, it was revealed that the entity had missed out on a crucial investor who wanted to set up a cloud at the park, but because it was only a primary data centre for backup the investment could not come through.
Specifically, there has been a concern that there were no incentive packages that could lure investors into the country and this is due to pending legislation including one that has to be enacted by the Ministry of Home Affairs that could allow investors to invest without getting residence permits.
Another concern is that there has always been a need for legislation that could enable investors to move large amounts of money of up to E2 billion at an impulse and the current laws do not encourage such as there is a ceiling for money to be moved around and is controlled by the Central Bank.