Sub-Saharan Africa is struggling to navigate an unprecedented health and economic crisis—one that, in just a few months, has jeopardized decades of hard-won development gains and upended the lives and livelihoods of millions.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a severe impact on Eswatini’s economy at a time when the country is already facing deep economic challenges, and the government has begun fiscal consolidation efforts. A national lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, disruptions in supply chains, and lower external demand for key exports are curtailing economic activity. While the authorities’ policy response has been timely and proactive, the economic shock and containment policies are triggering a severe recession with significant social costs, and have created urgent balance of payments needs. The pandemic is unfolding in a context of high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and a stretched health care system, which increase Eswatini’s vulnerability.
The fiscal crisis in the Kingdom of Swaziland emanating from a decline in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union and one of the largest public wage bills in sub-Saharan Africa has reached a critical stage. Faced with revenue shortfalls associated with slowing economic activity, uncontrolled public spending, and lack of financing, the authorities continued to deplete central bank reserves and accumulate domestic arrears. The authorities have been able to finance only a minimal amount of expenditure, including wages, utilities, and essential transfers.
The Swaziland economy continues to underperform, reflecting the impact of the global economic crisis. The impact of the crisis has been felt mostly in revenue transfers of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) to Swaziland. Executive Directors welcomed Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap (FAR), which focused on restoring fiscal sustainability, improving competitiveness, and strengthening financial supervision. They noted that key challenges are restoring fiscal sustainability, addressing HIV/AIDS, reducing poverty, and creating employment. Directors emphasized the need for fiscal adjustment and budgetary reforms. Directors noted that the banking system remains in good health.
The Article IV Consultation with the Kingdom of Swaziland discusses efforts to broaden the tax base and improve tax administration, in particular through the introduction of a value-added tax and the establishment of a Revenue Authority. The depreciation of the nominal exchange rate along with the South African rand, to which it is pegged, impacted positively on the export sector. Prompt and automatic pass-through of international price increases would also help depoliticize price adjustments.
The Swazi economy has continued to register sluggish economic activity even as rising Southern African Customs Union revenue contributed to a large fiscal surplus and accumulation of international reserves. The unchecked growth of insufficiently regulated saving and credit cooperatives poses risks to the financial system. Fiscal policy should safeguard priority spending and fiscal sustainability. Executive Directors commend the government’s effort in rebuilding international reserves. Further efforts are needed to improve the quality and timeliness of data to better facilitate policy formulation and monitoring.
This 2006 Article IV Consultation highlights that Swaziland’s economic performance has remained weak with growth averaging only 2 percent since 2000, owing to a substantial real appreciation of the lilangeni during 2002–04, erosion of trade preferences, recurrent drought, and stagnant investment. Over that same period, rising government expenditures, especially on the wage bill, undermined fiscal sustainability and reduced foreign reserves to critically low levels. Poverty has escalated in the face of high and rising unemployment, food shortages, and the world’s highest HIV/AIDS infection rate.
In recent years, the IMF has released a growing number of reports and other documents covering economic and financial developments and trends in member countries. Each report, prepared by a staff team after discussions with government officials, is published at the option of the member country.
Economic growth in Swaziland has weakened over the past decade. This 2005 Article IV Consultation highlights that real GDP growth decelerated to 2.1 percent in 2004 and an estimated 1.8 percent in 2005. A prolonged drought affected agricultural output, particularly maize, the main staple crop, and cotton. The authorities completed a “Poverty Reduction Strategy and Action Plan” in October 2004. The document spells out policies with the overall objective of halving the 1995 poverty rate by 2015. However, little progress has been made toward this and other Millennium Development Goals.
This Selected Issues paper describes recent economic developments in Swaziland and discusses some of the key issues that have a bearing on the economic outlook and policy debate. The paper examines developments with regard to output and inflation, fiscal policy, monetary policy and financial markets, and the external sector. It elaborates the economic impact of HIV/AIDS. The sources of GDP growth and the outlook are analyzed. The paper also examines the issue of external competitiveness, and describes the finances of the Public Service Pensions Fund.