By Ntombi Mhlongo
The proposed review of the country’s work permit policy announced by the government will address some of the challenges affecting the investment climate in the country.
During the closing of the Cabinet Retreat held recently, Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini revealed that there were still several challenges hampering investment growth that needed to be addressed, one of them being the lack of a proper work permit policy.
The challenges, as articulated by the PM, have the potential of hampering one of the plans and targets that government aims to achieve in the coming financial year which is to create at least 12 000 new jobs in various sectors such as mining, agro-processing, energy, financial services, real estate, textile, and manufacturing.
The PM said: “The challenges include reconsideration of the work permits policy and making it more objective and transparent to investors. As such, Cabinet resolved to set up a committee that comprises all relevant stakeholders, which will sit down to strategise on how best this matter can be expedited, right up to policy and legislative level if necessary. There may be a need to benchmark with other countries that we compete against”.
His statement and promise have come at the right time when the country is expected to work on some of the challenges outlined in the 2022 Investment Climate of Eswatini presented by the US Department of State
The statement acknowledged that the Government of Eswatini regards foreign direct investment (FDI) as one of the five pillars of its Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth (SDIG) Program, and a means to drive the country’s economic growth, obtain access to foreign markets for its exports, and improve international competitiveness.
However, it mentioned that while the government has strongly encouraged foreign investment over the past 15 years, it only recently adopted a formal strategy for achieving measurable progress.
“Eswatini does not have a unified policy on investment. Instead, individual ministries have their own investment facilitation policies, which include policies on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), agriculture, energy, transportation, mining, education, and telecommunications. Calls for more concerted action on these policies have intensified in the last few years as Eswatini has suffered from drought, fiscal challenges, and general economic recession,” it is highlighted in the document.
In practice, most successful foreign investors associate with local partners to navigate Eswatini’s complex bureaucracy. Most of the country’s land is Swati Nation Land held by the king “in trust for the Swati Nation” and cannot be purchased by foreign investors. Foreign investors that require significant land for their enterprise must engage the Land Management Board to negotiate long-term leases.
EIPA has an aftercare division for purposes of investment retention that serves as a direct avenue for investors to communicate concerns they may have.
Most investors who stay beyond the initial period during which the government offers investment incentives have opted to remain long-term.
Furthermore, the review will be in sync with the European Union’s investment policy which has, since its formation in 2009, been encouraging member states to secure a level playing field so that investors abroad are not discriminated against or mistreated.
The EU investment policy also encourages member states to make it easier to invest by creating a predictable and transparent business environment and encouraging investment that supports sustainable development.
The EU has argued that member states, especially in the sub-Saharan region, need to encourage the setting up of a more transparent, efficient and predictable business climate for investors.
This includes, for instance, making information on investment rules public and easily available, or reducing delays in obtaining government permits and approvals.
“Investment facilitation contributes to unlocking investment opportunities notably for small and medium enterprises. This should also benefit developing countries by making it easier for domestic and foreign investors to invest, conduct their day-to-day business, and expand their existing investments,” the EU says on its website.