Saturday, April 11, 2009

Swaziland excluded from North-South project

By Fanyana Mabuza (Swazi Observer)-Despite a recent visit by a high level delegation from the World Bank to the country, Swaziland has been left out of a multi-billion Emalangeni major infrastructure initiative aimed at enhancing trading opportunities in the East and Southern Africa region.

The infrastructure initiative, to be financed to the tune of more than 1 billion (675 pounds sterling), aims to get goods to markets faster and cheaper with the improved infrastructure and more efficient border crossings.

It is believed that such an initiative will also drastically improve the living standards of millions of people living in this region.

The money will come from, among others, the World Bank, international development agencies and the international private sector. The United Kingdom has also committed 100 million pounds sterling to the project, during a conference held in Mulungushi Zambia, from Monday to Tuesday this week.

Instead, it will benefit countries like Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa, cutting us out along with Lesotho.

This is despite the fact that at the time the deal was sealed in Zambia, World Bank officials held talks with the Prime Minister and his cabinet at Orion, in Pigg’s Peak no hint of such a project was mentioned to Swaziland.

The World Bank could only guarantee its continued support to the Swazi government in its bid to turn around the economy.

Dirk Reinermann, Head Operations Officer at the Bank, indicated that his team was at the country’s service mainly because the Bank was a development cooperative of which Swaziland was a member and shareholder.

“Our starting point is your government programme. We have studied your impressive programme of action for 2008-2013 of March 26 with great care. I want to be clear, your priorities are our priorities, your timeline is our timeline. The Bank has no agenda in Swaziland other than to assist you as the top level executive body to steer the country in the direction you choose,” Reinermann said during the meeting.

The BBC News recently reported that the estimated cost of improving the transport infrastructure and trade links in the region will eventually rise to 12 billion pounds sterling, to be spent over two decades.

Swaziland does not feature anywhere in this gigantic infrastructure initiative, along with Lesotho.

“In order to speed up the transportation of goods from Tanzania, via Zambia to the ports of South Africa, the project will remove red tape and oversee the upgrade of 8 000 kilometres of road and 600 kilometres of rail track.

“It also aims at cutting waiting times to two hours by streamlining procedures, something with the potential of reducing HIV transmission rates as truckers will have less time to spend with sex workers at the borders,” the BBC reported.

For example, truckers currently wait for three or four days before they can enter Zimbabwe, and the project is aimed at greatly cutting this time, with improved and quicker service at the border posts.

“Faster border crossings and improved railways and highways will improve the access of producers, especially in landlocked countries, to regional and international markets, stimulating economic growth and investment,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Majozi Sithole explained that he was not aware of such an initiative, hence he could not fathom how and why Swaziland was left out.

“I am not aware of such an initiative. In fact, I have not even heard of it. In that manner, I cannot be in a position to know the reasons behind our being left bout, especially since it touches our imminent neighbours. I do not know whether it is a grant or a loan hence I cannot be in a position to articulate as to what could have led to our exclusion. I will have to check on it to avail myself more details about it,” he said.

The same was said by the Minister for Economic Planning and Development, Prince Hlangusemphi, in an interview.

“I have not heard of such a project hence I cannot be in a position to know as to how we got to be excluded, if we were part of it in the first place. I will have to check out before I can say exactly why we are not part of such a big development,” he said.

When asked as to what exactly the country asked for during the meeting with the bank’s executives, the Minister mentioned that development initiatives were discussed with the World Bank delegation, even though these were not formal deliberations, as that is still to be undertaken.

He also stated that he would have to check up on the infrastructure issue and acquaint himself fully with it before making any comments.