By Sifiso Sibandze
Amid the recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has resulted in new challenges to the global economy and international trade.
This war has also imperilled the world’s economic recovery with inflation, food security, energy security and further supply-chain disruptions among the many challenges but against these odds, the Eswatini economy has displayed resilience and recorded a resounding growth despite grappling with rising inflation and tightening monetary policy.
Through the implementation of the National Strategic Plan for the economic turnaround, which is aimed to balance the budget, raise revenue, and increase funding for infrastructure and service delivery, the government has for the first time managed to deliver a fully-funded budget of E26 billion with a record-low deficit of 2.2 per cent (about E1.8 billion).
Read More: Revenue to reach E25 billion
This was driven by higher-than-average SACU receipts and improved domestic collections by Eswatini Revenue Services (ERS). What a relief!
Given this milestone, the government through the adoption of a more expansionary fiscal policy, the government seeks to plough back the gains to benefit emaSwati through making enhanced provisions for previously compromised budget lines and programmes such as tertiary education scholarships, free primary education grants, more grants for the elderly and the disabled, youth empowerment programmes, public investment and capital expenditure, provided the much-needed relief to emaSwati who were anticipating the worst, given the prevailing challenging times.
This is how the minister provided relief as he ploughs back to emaSwati;
Total expenditure for the financial year 2023/24 is expected to be E26.44 billion. The total budget allocation to capital programmes amounts to E5.85 billion, which reflects an E500 million increase from last year’s budget allocation.
The total expenditure for 2023/24 shows an increase of 14 per cent compared to last year’s budget. Of this budget, E514 million has been budgeted for road rehabilitations, maintenance and feeder road upgrades. This is significantly more than what has been ever spent on road maintenance and rehabilitation.
Other projects the government will invest in include the completion of the Johnson Workwear factory shell at Nhlangano and the rehabilitation of the burnt-down factory shell at Hlathikhulu. In this budget, the government has provided E171 million for the construction of factory shells.
Another remarkable capital project that will receive funding is the Mkhondvo Ngwavuma Water Augmentation Project. E170 million was allocated for the construction of the new Parliament Building.
The government has allocated E3.96 billion to the Ministry of Education and Training. This represents a E430 million increase over 2022. The education sector including scholarships of E647 million represents 19 per cent of the total budget. This is in line with the Government’s commitment to 15 per cent of the National Budget being spent on Education.
The government will also be increasing the Free Primary Education grant per learner and implementation of the revised fees is going to commence in the fiscal year 2023/2024 at a 20 per cent level of adjustment, amounting to E45.6 million.
The elderly will continue receiving the same amount even this financial year. However, not all is lost as more beneficiaries have been added to the list. The government has set aside E850 million for social protection grants for the elderly, OVC, and people living with disabilities.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s Office allocation is set aside to continue providing these essential social services. The government allocated E72.9 million has been made to cover approximately 15 000 new people in these vulnerable groups, in addition to existing beneficiaries.
In a bid for the country to achieve food security, the Minister of Finance Neal Rijkenberg has increased the agriculture budget by E274 million to E1.63 billion.
This means the agriculture budget makes up six per cent of the overall budget. The minister said the agriculture sector has demonstrated resilience in the wake of the production disruptions faced in the past year, attaining a growth of 1.6 per cent of GDP in 2022.
He said the sector was expected to maintain this growth rate in 2023 and the government would continue to invest in the agriculture sector to ensure food security at household and national levels, as well as promote commercial agricultural production.
Read More: Live-Blog: Budget Speech 2023
Amongst other things, the allocated funds will be utilized in the construction of secondary distribution canals and LUSIP II infield irrigation development where the target is to irrigate an area covering 5 200 hectares in the Lowveld.
A total of E546.8 million in loan funds have been put aside for the construction of a secondary canal and downstream development, and E100 million in local funds for project coordination and management, tax and resettlement.
Civil Servants Wages
The government will add E900 million to its wage bill to provide for the filling of critical vacant posts in the civil service. This is an 11 per cent increase, but due to the fact this budget is 14 per cent higher than last year’s budget, the percentage of wage bill to budget should continue to decrease,” he said.
The budget for the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs has increased from E69 million to E85 million. The amount of budget allocated to this Ministry is purely for auxiliary activities related to Sport and the Youth and is in no way reflective of the government’s full commitment to empowering the youth.
Considering the budget holistically the E900 million increase in the wage bill is mainly for the youth, the E286 million increase in scholarship is 100 per cent for the youth, the E430 million increase in the Education budget is 100 per cent for the youth and I can keep on going. These numbers are the true reflection of how this budget is focused on youth empowerment.
- No increase in income tax
- No VAT increase
- Fuel levy unchanged